USDOJ issues new medical marijuana guidelines

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The U.S. Department of Justice issued a three-page memo Monday containing formal guidelines for federal prosecutors in states that have enacted laws authorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The memo argues federal prosecutors would be wasting their time arresting Americans who use or supply medical marijuana in accordance with state laws.

The Attorney General takes questions.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. (Photo by Lonnie Tague, The Department of Justice)

“For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources,” the memo states.

But the memo also makes clear “the prosecution of significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, and the disruption of illegal drug manufacturing and trafficking networks continues to be a core priority in the Department’s efforts against narcotics and dangerous drugs.”

From the memo:

Indeed, this memorandum does not alter in any way the Department’s authority to enforce federal law, including laws prohibiting the manufacture, production, distribution, possession, or use of marijuana on federal property. This guidance regarding resource allocation does not “legalize” marijuana or provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law, nor is it intended to create any privileges, benefits, or rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable by any individual, party or witness in any administrative, civil, or criminal matter. Nor does clear and unambiguous compliance with state law or the absence of one or all of the above factors create a legal defense to a violation of the Controlled Substances Act. Rather, this memorandum is intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion.

Finally, nothing herein precludes investigation or prosecution where there is a reasonable basis to believe that compliance with state law is being invoked as a pretext for the production or distribution of marijuana for purposes not authorized by state law. Nor does this guidance preclude investigation or prosecution, even when there is clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law, in particular circumstances where investigation or prosecution otherwise serves important federal interests.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), who has long advocated a hands-off approach for medical marijuana, released the following statement Monday:

 

“Today, common sense won out over ideological stubbornness as our nation’s law enforcement agency formally adopted a new and well-balanced policy on medical marijuana use. Across the country, individual states have enacted laws that allow individuals who are sick and suffering to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription only to have DOJ officials arrest and prosecute them anyway. This was a policy that was misguided and wrong from the start and I’m very pleased that the Obama administration’s Justice Department, under the leadership of Attorney General Holder, has put an end to it.

“It is unconscionable that the federal government had previously sought to not only deny, but arrest and prosecute medical marijuana patients who are using the drug in accordance with state law to relieve pain and nausea associated with debilitating illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. Today, those patients no longer have to worry that the medicine they’ve been legally using in their states will result in them being thrown in jail.  Our Justice Department will now let these patients use medical marijuana in accordance with state law and federal prosecutors will instead focus their attention on more pressing legal matters that warrant their time and attention.”

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) called the shift “a major victory for citizens who support cannabis law reform.”

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