Helena, Mont—Medical marijuana businesses worried that federal agents will close them down now have a roadmap to avoid prosecution, courtesy of the Justice Department’s decision to allow legal pot in Colorado and Washington state.
The agency said last week that even thought the drug remains illegal under federal law, it won’t intervene to block spate pot laws as long as states create strict and effective controls.
“The DOJ is saying you guys need to color inside the lines,” said Teri Robnett, founder of the Cannabis Patients Action Network, a medical marijuana advocacy group. “If you color inside the lines, we’ll let you keep your crayons. If you don’t, we can come in and take your crayons away, “ she said.
The DOJ’s policy memo comes after voters in Colorado and Washington last fall passed first-in-the-nation laws to allow recreational pot use and follows similar agency statements in recent years that helped spur the creation of medical marijuana systems across the U.S.
In states like Montana and California, an explosion in the use of medical marijuana spawned a backlash, stricter laws and tougher federal enforcement. U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, whose office covers the Eastern District of California, said more than half of the cases his office prosecutes comply with the criteria set out in the memo.
With legal, recreational pot on the horizon in two states, the memo is raising questions about the future of medical marijuana not just in Washington and Colorado, but the 18 other states that allow it. The DOJ memo outlines eight areas of “marijuana-related conduct” that it won’t tolerate, including distribution to kids. Marijuana advocates say they welcome them as guidelines for medical marijuana states to tailor their laws and a way for other states to enact new laws without fear of federal reprisal.
Advocates say states with even regulations that meet or exceed regulations in those areas should not be worried about increased federal scrutiny. “It should give growers and dispensers a level of comfort that the federal government is becoming clearer in their guidance is to U.S. attorney,” said Roseanne Scotti, the New Jersey director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
The Associated Press--The Ocala Star Banner, Thursday, September 2013