The Obama administration announced today that it will not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws, under new policy guidelines to be sent to federal prosecutors Monday 19th October. A 3-page memo spelling out the policy is expected to be sent Monday to federal prosecutors in the 14 states which allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes, and also to top officials at the FBI and the DEA.
According to officials, the memo is designed to give a sense of prosecutorial priorities to U.S. Attorneys in the states that allow medical marijuana. It notes that cannabis sales in the United States are the largest source of money for violent Mexican drug cartels, but adds that federal law enforcement agencies have limited resources – It emphasizes that prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, and says it is not a good use of federal manpower to prosecute those who are without a doubt in compliance with state law.
And while the policy memo describes a change in priorities away from prosecuting medical marijuana cases, it does not rule out the possibility that the federal government could still prosecute someone whose activities are allowed under state law. Two Justice Department officials described the new policy to The Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state laws. The new policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes. Fourteen states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) currently allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes with more States expected to follow suit in the near future. California remains unique among those for the presence of dispensaries – businesses that sell marijuana and even advertise their services.
Attorney General Eric Holder said in March that he wanted federal law enforcement officials to pursue those who violate both federal and state law, but it has not been clear how that goal would be put into practice. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss any legal guidance before it is formally issued. Officials were keen to stipulate that the government will still prosecute those who use medical marijuana as a cover for other illegal activity. The memo particularly warns that some suspects may hide old-fashioned drug dealing or other crimes behind a medical marijuana business. In particular, the memo urges prosecutors to pursue marijuana cases which involve violence, the illegal use of firearms, selling pot to minors, money laundering or other crimes. Medical marijuana advocates have been anxious to see exactly how the administration would implement candidate Barack Obama’s repeated promises to change the policy in situations in which state laws allow the use of medical marijuana. Shortly after Obama took office, DEA agents raided four dispensaries in Los Angeles, prompting confusion about the government’s plans.