New Federal medical marijuana policy issued by Obama administration

By Nacumen · Oct 19, 2009 · Updated Oct 19, 2009 · ·
  1. Nacumen
    WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration 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.

    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 allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

    California is 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.
    A 3-page memo spelling out the policy is expected to be sent Monday to federal prosecutors in the 14 states, and also to top officials at the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

    The memo, the officials said, 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.

    The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the legal guidance before it is issued.
    At the same time, the officials said, 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.

    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.

    The memo, officials said, is designed to give a sense of prosecutorial priorities to U.S. Attorneys in the states that allow medical marijuana. It notes that pot 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.

    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.

    • By Devlin Barrett, Associated Press Writer
    • On 10:57 pm EDT, Sunday October 18, 2009

    "This must be why Obama won the Nobel prize."

    Share This Article


  1. chillinwill
    Re: State medical marijuana to be FEDERALLY LEGALIZED in the USA!

    Please note that the way we post news has changed, because of our main news page. You can find the full instructions here.

    The most important changes are:

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    Please be so kind to review your articles and correct this.

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    The main news page is accessible from the tabs on the top of any DF page.

    Furthermore, please take out the link to the DEA website and make it a hxxp link
  2. Nacumen
    Re: State medical marijuana to be FEDERALLY LEGALIZED in the USA!

    Ok, I changed it. It's a great idea to allow for consistent formatting.
  3. thebige
    Re: State medical marijuana to be FEDERALLY LEGALIZED in the USA!

    Swim feels it will be interesting to see how dispensaries spread and pop up in the above listed states.
    Paranoid response:
    It may be that the government sees this as enough states across the US to see this as a test to see the countries response over the issue.And feels that these are enough states to use that they can still reign in control if need be..............
    Less paranoid Normal response:Swims wonders if at some point in the future the dispensaries will become franchised and the people will be stuck with McDonald's blend,Burger King kush And DunkinDoughuts wake-n-bake combos..................
  4. sirmoonie
    Re: State medical marijuana to be FEDERALLY LEGALIZED in the USA!

    Title of this thread is wrong and very misleading.

    Great news otherwise.
  5. NeuroChi
    Re: State medical marijuana to be FEDERALLY LEGALIZED in the USA!

    This is good news, at least a step in the right direction when the Administration is taking a stance that is outright in support of medical marijuana.

    The problem is the hypocrisy. How can marijuana remain schedule I, with "no accepted medical use", while the Federal government recognizes legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries?

    Good point sirmoonie.

    Medical Marijuana dispensaries will not be 'Legal' per se, it will just be of the lowest priority.
  6. Alfa
    The title has been changed to the original and I have removed unnecessary icons.
  7. Nature Boy
    Great news and let's hope this can be built on. If Obama can pin down a second term and drive a few more nails into the prohibitionist majority of the Republican party, I could genuinely see a federal marijuana decriminalisation (and possible legalisation) within the next decade or so. Hopefully, even Republicans will start to see the benefits of taxing weed instead of locking people up for using it. Just as long as those neo-cons and Christian fundamentalists don't rear their ugly heads again.
  8. Terrapinzflyer

    While this is good news for Medical Marijuana, it signals business as usual for the drug war. Turtle does not expect to see any real change. In fact, it seems to unleash the feds, who have been in a bit of limbo since Obama and the Attorney Generals previous statements.

    While it has been kept out of even the local media, the feds have been quite busy in N CA this fall- though they have been going after the most blatant violators and letting the local sheriffs do much of the dirty work. The signal has been loud and clear- black market marijuana will not be tolerated.
  9. Terrapinzflyer
    ok- heres the official memorandum to state attorney generals / law enforcement. From the USDOJ so no link:

    editThe pdf of the Attorney Generals office memorandum has been uploaded to the file archive
  10. chillinwill
    U.S. Dept. of Justice to issue guidance for federal prosecution in medical marijuana cases

    The U.S. Department of Justice is expected to send a three page memo to federal prosecutors outlining Attorney General Eric Holder’s views on how cases involving medical marijuana should be handled.

    The Associated Press reports the memo will be sent to federal prosecutors in 14 states which have medical marijuana laws — including Michigan — as well as top officials in the FBI and the DEA. The memo is expected to inform prosecutors that pursuing cases against marijuana suppliers who are clearly in strict compliance with state laws is not a good use of prosecutors’ time.

    The move is a major shift in policy from Bush era policies which had federal law enforcement pursuing criminal charges in medical marijuana cases, AP reports. The move also clears up some concerns that Holder would continue the Bush administration policies.

    The move has national organizers for medical marijuana sighing with relief.

    “This is a major step forward,” said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This change in policy moves the federal government dramatically toward respecting scientific and practical reality.”

    But how federal authorities will be able to discern those who are strictly adhering to state laws on medical marijuana in Michigan is certainly a question. Michigan voters approved a law in Nov. to allow patients with certain conditions, like cancer, back pain and HIV or AIDS, to access the plant for medical purposes.

    The Michigan Department of Community Health was tasked with drawing up the rules and operations for residents to be approved for the use of pot, and that was a considerable battle, as Michigan Messenger reported at the time. But even since the new policies and rules have gone into effect, law enforcement agencies across the state continue to make arrests and conduct criminal cases in reference to medical marijuana.

    By Todd A. Heywood
    October 19, 2009
    Michigan Messanger
  11. Nacumen
    Re: State medical marijuana to be FEDERALLY LEGALIZED in the USA!

    I disagree that the title of the thread was misleading. Would you like to explain why you believed "State medical marijuana to be FEDERALLY LEGALIZED in the USA" is a false statement?

    State medical marijuana has been indeed federally legalized as a result of this change in administrative policy. The branch of the federal government which chooses whether a law is enforced, the Executive, chose to make policy that it would not interfere with medical marijuana activities as long as it was in concurrence with state law. The Judicial branch could have produced the same effect by saying that government restricting medical care is unconstitutional, or the Legislative branch could have produced the same effect by passing legislation that states the federal government cannot interfere with legal state health care. Whereas previously, it was the policy of the Executive to view all state involvements(with a handful of minor exceptions) of medical marijuana as illegal, even if the state did not see it as illegal. Now the Executive, the gatekeeper into federal prosecution, has stated that it will view legal state medical marijuana as legal.

    State medical marijuana has been federally legalized in the USA.
  12. Terrapinzflyer
    Re: State medical marijuana to be FEDERALLY LEGALIZED in the USA!

    The problem with it is it is not, in fact law. The executive branch has no powers to make a law- that is congresses job- the executive can only sign or veto the laws sent to them by congress, and congress has the power to overide a veto.

    This is really nothing more then a "strong suggestion" that federal efforts would be better spent elsewhere...

    It should also be pointed out that if it were legalized federally- then medical marijuana would be legal in all 50 states. The attorney generals office statement is basically just asserting the states right to make their own laws on this issue.
  13. chillinwill
    Justice Dept. to Stop Pursuit of Medical Marijuana Use

    People who use marijuana for medical purposes and those who distribute it should not face federal prosecution, provided they act according to state law, the Justice Department said on Monday in a directive with far-reaching political and legal implications.

    In a memorandum to federal prosecutors in the 14 states that make some allowance for the use of marijuana for medical purposes, the department said it was committed to the “efficient and rational use” of its resources, and that going after individuals who were in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state laws did not meet that standard.

    “It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement accompanying the memo. “But we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal.”

    In emphasizing that it would continue to pursue those who use the concept of medical marijuana as a ruse, the department said, “Marijuana distribution in the United States remains the single largest source of revenue for the Mexican cartels.” Going after the makers and sellers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, will remain a “core priority.”

    The Justice Department policy statement, foreshadowed since shortly after President Obama took office, was laid out on Monday in the announcement by Mr. Holder, who made public a memo from David W. Ogden, the deputy attorney general, to the United States attorneys in the affected states, most notably California.

    The announcement formalizes the Obama administration’s departure from the policies of former President George W. Bush, under whose administration federal agents raided medical marijuana distributors that violated federal statutes, even if the distributors appeared to be complying with state laws.

    Advocates of medical marijuana say the substance can reduce chronic pain, nausea and other ailments associated with cancer and other serious illnesses. In 1996, California became the first state to make it legal to sell marijuana to people with doctors’ prescriptions. The other states that allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes are Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

    “This is a major step forward,” said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports legalizing the substance. “This change in policy moves the federal government dramatically toward respecting scientific and practical reality.”

    The Justice Department indicated that the memo should not be interpreted as legalizing marijuana. “Rather, this memorandum is intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion,” the department said.

    But there will inevitably be clashes, in political arenas and in courtrooms, over what constitutes “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state laws, and whether marijuana distributors ostensibly in business to provide the substance for medical use are being infiltrated by drug cartels.

    October 19, 2009
    NY Times
  14. Master_Khan
    Re: AP Newsbreak: New Medical Marijuana Policy Issued From Obama Administration

    It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood! Of course there are plenty of old school narcs still around like that retard Lamar Smith from Texas who is criticizing today's announcement, but hopefully they will all dry up and blow away someday soon. Here is the statement by Smith:

    WASHINGTON – House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today responded to the Justice Department’s guidance directing federal prosecutors to no longer investigate or prosecute medical marijuana distributors in states where it is legal as long as the distributors are in compliance with state regulations. According to the Obama administration, federal prosecutors have better things to do.

    Ranking Member Smith criticized the decision because it weakens federal enforcement of drug laws:

    “The Administration’s new guidelines directing federal prosecutors to ignore local medical marijuana dispensaries that allegedly operate in compliance with state laws fly in the face of Supreme Court precedent and undermine federal laws that prohibit the distribution and use of marijuana.

    “For the past ten months, the Obama administration has promised robust drug enforcement efforts to help address cartel-operated marijuana fields in our national parks and drug-related violence along the U.S.-Mexico border. But we cannot hope to eradicate the drug trade if we do not first address the cash cow for most drug trafficking organizations—marijuana. Illegal marijuana sales in the U.S. help fund the illegal drug trade.

    “By directing federal law enforcement officers to ignore federal drug laws, the Administration is tacitly condoning the use of marijuana in the U.S. If we want to win the war on drugs, federal prosecutors have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute all medical marijuana dispensaries and not just those that are merely fronts for illegal marijuana distribution.”
  15. Pickpoke
    good news, but it does not help out those that are not residents of states where med. mj isn't legal yet, or those without scripts. so therefore it is no help to swim :( but hopefully better things can come from this.
  16. Nacumen
    Re: State medical marijuana to be FEDERALLY LEGALIZED in the USA!

    I believe you misunderstand me. I am not saying medical marijuana is now legal in the United States. I said, as the article affirms, that state medical marijuana is to be federally legalized, that is, the federal government will defer to state law in cases involving solely medical marijuana. In those states where it was previously "half" legal, this policy makes the medical marijuana industry fully legal because the executive branch has ordered that no legal repercussions will occur when the state solely handles medical marijuana, because this area of healthcare is now respected as legitimate. The legislative branch is not the only branch that effectively makes law, every branch can and does, as happened here. This is the way the United States government has operated since the inception of its Constitution.
  17. Terrapinzflyer
    the best article I have seen on this yet:

    Holder's Baby Step On Medical Marijuana

    The Obama Justice Department made news today by codifying a previously-announced policy of ending raids on medical marijuana dispensaries which comply with state laws. Even though medical marijuana is legal in fourteen states -- over one-fourth of the country -- it is still illegal under federal law (the Controlled Substances Act). Since federal law always trumps state law, this has led to continuing raids on dispensaries which state and local governments have explicitly allowed to operate. When President Obama took office, he announced that these raids by the feds would cease, as long as the dispensaries weren't breaking applicable state laws in their operation. A few raids subsequently took place in California, leading to some distrust and skepticism, but today Attorney General Eric Holder sent out guidelines to federal attorneys to halt these raids. This is good news for medical marijuana advocates, but even though this is a historic shift in the War on Drugs, it simply does not go far enough -- because it does not adequately resolve the illogic of the underlying legal issue. At best, it should be seen as only a good first (baby) step on the road towards a rational and cohesive federal medical marijuana policy.

    The underlying problem is the fact that the federal government, via the Controlled Substances Act, refuses to admit that marijuana can ever be used medically. This leads to some serious doublethink on the federal level, and also leads to some serious injustice in the courtroom. And nothing the Department of Justice said today changes any of that.

    I've written before about the issue of what "schedule" marijuana falls into under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I -- which includes marijuana -- differs from Schedule II in only one regard. From the Schedule I language: "The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." Schedule II drugs are just as illegal as Schedule I, but have "a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions." Schedule II drugs include: cocaine, opium, amphetamine, methamphetamine, PCP, and secobarbital. Possessing any of these without a prescription will get you locked up, but the possibility for a doctor to prescribe them exists within the law. Marijuana is not included in this list.

    The doublethink occurs when you consider that, since the 1970s, there have been patients who were prescribed marijuana (not the synthetic Marinol, but actual smokable marijuana) to treat their glaucoma. They received prescription joints from their pharmacy, directly from the federal government. At the very same time that marijuana had "no currently accepted medical use." So federal law stated, in essence, that no medical use existed -- except for the patients we're supplying marijuana to.

    But the true injustice is the federal gag rule. From the article in today's Washington Post on the new Department of Justice memo:

    ...the document, posted on the department Web site... makes clear that the department is not "legalizing" marijuana or creating a new legal defense for people who may have violated the Controlled Substances Act.

    . . .

    Representatives of the group also raised questions about the Justice Department policy shift Monday, wondering, for instance, whether federal prosecutors might allow defendants to introduce medical evidence in criminal cases brought in federal courts. Federal prosecutors have more than two dozen active cases in which defendants have been barred from using evidence of their medical problems.

    The actual text of the memo makes this clear, too:

    Nor does clear and unambiguous compliance with state law... create a legal defense to a violation of the Controlled Substances Act.

    What this all means is that defendants are prohibited from attempting what is known as a "medical necessity defense" in federal courtrooms. In other words, it does not matter whether your doctor tells you that if you don't ingest marijuana you will likely die -- because you cannot tell the jury this during your trial.

    In one of the earliest of these federal cases (after Proposition 215 passed in California, legalizing medical marijuana at the state level), Ed Rosenthal had actually been deputized by the city of Oakland, but could not even mention this fact during his trial. The jury heard all the evidence against him, as if he were some street dealer -- but they were precluded by federal law from hearing him attempt to adequately defend himself. He was not allowed to say "I was growing marijuana for medical patients," or to even bring up the fact that the city and state approved what he was doing, and had given the strongest possible stamp of approval to him. The city had thought that deputizing Rosenthal would immunize him, because there is a loophole in the drug laws for undercover police to handle and possess illegal drugs in the performance of their duties. It didn't work, because the jury never heard about it. Nor did they hear his "medical necessity" defense, because his lawyer was not allowed to say one word about it. When informed of the true facts of the case, after they had convicted him, several members of the jury apologized profusely to Rosenthal for the travesty of justice they had just played a part in. One said, of the conviction: "It's the most horrible mistake I've ever made in my entire life."

    The concept of a "necessity" defense is a simple one in common law. Its purpose is to explain lawbreaking due to a necessity to prevent a greater evil than the breaking of the law. Say you were walking down a sidewalk and saw a blind man wandering in the street in the path of a bus. If you jumped out and dragged him to safety, you could technically be cited for jaywalking. But the evil of not acting to save the man's life is far greater than the evil of breaking the jaywalking law, so if a cop was insane enough to cite you, you could argue in court the reason you had for breaking the law in the first place, in your defense.

    But if you try to argue a "medical" necessity in your defense against breaking federal drug law, all you will get in federal court is a mistrial or even contempt of court conviction (as happened to the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative -- a different case from Rosenthal's -- where a medical necessity defense was specifically disallowed by the U.S. Supreme Court).

    What this all means is that today's news, while good for the medical marijuana movement, is simply not good enough, because it changes no underlying federal law. Meaning that, if President Obama -- and Attorney General Holder, and the local Drug Enforcement Agency, and the local federal prosecutor -- all deem a particular medical marijuana dispensary acceptable, then it won't be raided. But if anyone in that chain of command decides you're outside the state law in any way, then you cannot even mention the words "medical marijuana" in your court case after they arrest you. You will simply be prosecuted as a "dealer" or "trafficker" and will be gagged so you cannot explain who you were really selling marijuana to.

    This is still unacceptable. The citizens of fourteen states have determined that medical marijuana should be allowable. At the very least, you should be able to present this defense to a jury in a federal courtroom. Because without this change, all it would take is one D.E.A. office or one federal attorney to take a dislike to your operation, and you won't even be allowed to adequately defend yourself in court. And even if everyone in that chain of authority behaves themselves for the next four (or eight) years, Obama won't always be president. Meaning that all it would take is another memo by another attorney general, and the policy will go right back to where it was previously.

    Being able to mount an adequate legal defense is a bedrock of the American justice system. Gagging a valid defense in such a fashion is nothing more than a travesty within this system. It is not justice -- it is rank injustice.

    Of course, the real answer is to move marijuana to Schedule II. This would not only allow a legal defense in a courtroom, but it would make it much harder to overturn later on (under a different president). And, while Congress is capable of doing this, it doesn't seem likely any time soon (Barney Frank introduced such a bill, H.R. 2835, in the House this earlier this year -- but it has less than 30 cosponsors, and will likely get quietly buried in the Energy and Commerce committee without even getting a committee vote). But Congress doesn't even have to act in order to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. Right there in the text of the law is the following: "the Attorney General may by rule ... transfer between such schedules any drug or other substance...."

    Meaning that, while today's news is indeed a positive step towards legal acceptance of medical marijuana, it is a baby step at best. Because Attorney General Holder could have solved the problem once and for all. Instead, while limiting raids by federal agents, he retains the federal government's doublethink on the issue. Fourteen states have legalized medical marijuana. The practice of medicine is supposed to be regulated by the states. And yet, even after one-fourth of the states have said that there is a medical use for the cannabis plant, the federal government refuses to recognize this reality, and continues its position that marijuana is more dangerous to the public than cocaine, methamphetamine, opium, and PCP.

    One almost wonders what they've been smoking, to come up with such a ridiculous legal stance.

    [Legal Note: Anyone wishing to look into the court cases mentioned in this article should check out United States v. Ed Rosenthal and United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative. The Rosenthal link is a collection of articles (best link I could find with a limited search), but the O.C.B.C. link is the full legal record of the trial, in original documents. Another Supreme Court case worth looking at, where a slightly different defense was unsuccessfully used, is Gonzales v. Raich (was originally Ashcroft v. Raich).]

    Chris Weigant
    Author, Political Commentator, and Blogger
  18. jgarlopa
    Damn straight. You people understand my country better than most of us. Respect.
  19. kailey_elise
    Re: AP Newsbreak: New Medical Marijuana Policy Issued From Obama Administration

    Meaning: We can't just shoot fish in a barrel anymore & pretend that we're doing real good on the drugz warz!

    I was under the impression that most dispensaries used locally grown stuff, since they have it's genetics labeled, etc. Am I wrong in this assumption?

    ~Kailey Elise
  20. fryingsquirrel
    A small step in the right direction. Medical marijuana goes unbothered by the feds and the world doesn't end and gradually people start to wonder why they ever thought it would.
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