Medical Marijuana: Justice Department Says It's Illegal And the Feds Will Arrest You

Categories: Marijuana
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They gonna getcha
President Barack Obama's stance on medical cannabis has been nebulous: As candidate, he said the drug war was a failure and that it was "appropriate" for doctors to prescribe pot to treat illnesses. As president, Obama's Justice Department said chasing after pot growers and users was a poor use of federal resources, even as the DEA continued to bust law-abiding medical marijuana providers and distributors.

For a few weeks now, activists have been waiting for Attorney General Eric Holder to "reclarify" exactly what the Justice Department plans to do about medical marijuana that is legal in some states yet illegal when it comes to the feds. In a memo dated June 29, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole did just that: Marijuana is illegal, and the federal government can prosecute any user at any time for growing, selling, or transporting it, state law be damned, he wrote.

Consider the Obama administration's view on pot clarified -- and consider cannabis activists furious, dubbing the memo a "reneging," "backpedaling," "insane," and "beneficial only to Mexican drug cartels and law enforcement agencies that rely on drug asset forfeitures."

At least they know where they stand.

In our cover story in April, SF Weekly reported that while legally worthless, Justice Department memos are nonetheless influential documents that guide actions by local governments and how they handle pot-producing factories all the way down to the lowest-level closet grower's operation. This latest memo isn't the first time the department has given guidance on medical cannabis. In October 2009, it issued the now-famous "Ogden memo"  in which the Justice Department said prosecuting state legal cannabis was a waste of resources.

That helped spark a medical marijuana boom -- "It's legal!" was the prevailing wisdom -- until our own Melinda Haag, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, penned another missive earlier this year reminding any and all interested parties that federal law outlaws cannabis and anyone growing it is a criminal subject to prosecution and incarceration.

Fast forward to Wednesday and the following statement from Cole: "The Department of Justice is committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in all States," the deputy attorney general wrote in a memo under the heading "Guidance Regarding the Ogden Memo in Jurisdictions Seeking to Authorize Marijuana for Medical Use."

"The Department's view of the efficient use of limited federal resources as articulated in the Ogden Memorandum has not changed. There has, however, been an increase in the scope of commercial cultivation, sale, distribution, and use of marijuana for purported medical purposes. For example, within the past 12 months, several jurisdictions have considered or enacted legislation to authorize multiple large-scale, privately operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers. Some of these planned facilities have revenue projections of millions of dollars based on the planned cultivation of tens of thousands of cannabis plants.

The Ogden Memorandum was never intended to shield such activities from federal enforcement action and prosecution, even where those activities purport to comply with state law. Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling, or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law. Consistent with resource constraints and the discretion you may exercise in your district, such persons are subject to federal enforcement action, including potential prosecution. State laws or local ordinances are not a defense to civil or criminal enforcement of federal law with respect to such conduct, including enforcement of the CSA. Those who engage in transactions involving the proceeds of such activity may also be in violation of federal money laundering statutes and other federal financial laws."

SF Weekly contacted the Justice Department for comment shortly before the close of business on Thursday; we have yet to receive a response. 

Medical marijuana advocates were borderline apoplectic. "This rolls out the red carpet for illicit dealers," fumed Morgan Fox, communications director for Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization lobbying group. "The only people that will benefit from this are law enforcement groups that depend on asset forfeiture, and Mexican drug cartels. Patients, local communities, and every American taxpayer will bear the brunt of this insane policy."

What's more, the Justice Department just caught itself in its own web of lies, according to Kris Hermes, media specialist for patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

"The claims of Deputy AG Cole that threatening public officials with arrest and prosecution is consistent with the Ogden memo is incredible," Hermes wrote in an e-mail. "This so-called clarification upholds the recent status quos of aggressive enforcement against state and local medical marijuana laws, in direct contradiction to Obama's comment on the campaign trail that he was 'not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws.'"

This hard-line stance comes a week after Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced federal legislation that would finally remove medical marijuana from the same category as drugs like heroin.

Could Obama's turn against legal medical marijuana be seen as purely political, a move to placate the Republicans in Congress at a time when he needs their support to raise the debt ceiling?

Maybe, but if so, it's misguided, according to Tom Angell of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

"This president is simply continuing the harassment and interference policies of the Bush Administration when it comes to actually providing patients with their doctor-recommended medicine," Angell wrote in an e-mail. "With 80 percent of the public supporting medical marijuana, this doesn't seem like a very smart reelection strategy."

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21 comments
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medical alarm
medical alarm

  Very useful info. Hope to see more posts soon!

123hally7
123hally7

Be-well@safe-mail.net is the #1 online marijuana caregiver provider. Don't risk your safety with a nobody!!! Use the pros I do and so many do!!!  As they say, "be-well."

Chrisw
Chrisw

The big question is: What will happen next? Will we see pot shops closing down, a surge in government raids, a backtracking on recent state efforts to allow medical marijuana dispensaries? The memo was supposed to clarify everything, but in reality it has made it much more murky.Chris, Dispensary Business News

Ace
Ace

Very disappointed in Obama.  Where is the integrity and leadership.

Elizabethfrantes
Elizabethfrantes

Where has Congress been, in particular the so-called liberal democrats?  DUMP THE SCHEDULE LAW ALTOGETHER.  The War on Drugs, like the War on Poverty, and the War on Terror, are by definition unwinnable.  Obama should start saving money by laying off the DEA and most of the Federal prosecutors. 

rsteeb
rsteeb

Allow me to clarify it for you, Jimmy:  Schedule I Cannabis is a damned lie.  The  prohibition of Earth's most beneficial plant species is a crime against humanity.  It shall not stand.

-Rick Steeb, "60 year old glaucoma patient"

dogstar
dogstar

jury nullification     jury nulification      jury nullification        jury nullification     jury nullification

John Chase
John Chase

I think we are back to don't-ask-don't-tell. As long as the grower keeps a low enough profile, he'll be left alone. How low? I expect the DOJ will not say; they'll just say to review the prosecutions that have been brought and decide for yourself. It is the same way they are telling pain doctors how to avoid investigation for "over-prescribing". (See chapter 2 of Harvey Silverglate's "Three Felonies a Day")

Elizabethfrantes
Elizabethfrantes

The problem with that is our local and state "leaders" such as Leno and tommyknocker, look at medical pot as a revenue enhancement scheme, and are now demanding that dispensaries provide the names of growers, but refuse to provide any protection from Federal law.  Now, our Supes feel it's their duty to proclaim policy for the Feds and other nations, yet they never call their pals in Congress to do the only thing that will work, DUMP THE SCHEDULE LAW ALTOGETHER, because we lost the War on Some Drugs. Seems to me that by taking all the taxes and fees from the clubs, they are in fact guilty of racketeering under Federal law, so why don't they go after the politician profiting?   

Eric Muscari
Eric Muscari

This is so disgusting.  People who have chemotherapy are suffering in complete misery and they want to bust them as criminals for seeking relief.  I hope the politicians against marijuana have to go through chemotherapy so they understand real pain.  It's a miracle plant and our government is full of liars.  The people who made marijuana illegal are the real criminals.

SeanD
SeanD

Obama is kind of a dick, isn't he?

Paravet93
Paravet93

Obama is a complete disaster.  His administration is collapsing under the weight of his incompetence and arrogance.  The Democrats need to run a popular candidate to pirmary against him and win or else it is going to be President Romney or Bachman.

MrEricSir
MrEricSir

Why haven't we seceded yet?

Elizabethfrantes
Elizabethfrantes

Why do YOU keep voting for alleged Democrats in Congress who do nothing about that idiotic schedule law?  STOP VOTING FOR ANY CANDIDATE WHO DOES NOT PLEDGE TO DO SO.  And then DON'T VOTE FOR THE SCUMSUCKING JERKS!

MrEricSir
MrEricSir

Yeah, because that's clearly the largest issue and because candidates always do exactly what they say.  Your plan is flawless.

Gardunos
Gardunos

Impeach Obama the liar! He is the worst president in the history of this country! Shame on everyone who voted for him! He has lied more than Bush ever did. At least Bush told you the truth on where he stood on issues. Obama just says what ever will get him elected!

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