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Feature: Justice Department Issues Medical Marijuana Policy Memo -- No Prosecutions If Complying With State Law

In a new federal medical marijuana policy memo issued Monday to the DEA, FBI, and US Attorneys around the country, the Justice Department told prosecutors that medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal should not be targeted for federal prosecution unless they are violating state law. The memo formalizes statements made by Attorney General Eric Holder in February and March that going after pot-smoking patients and their suppliers would not be a high Justice Department priority .
Madison, WI medical marijuana march, this month, by 'Is My Medicine Legal Yet?'
The memo marks a sharp break with federal policy under the Clinton and Bush administrations, both of which aggressively targeted medical marijuana operations, especially in California, the state that has the broadest law and the highest number of medical marijuana patients.

The announcement of the policy shift won kudos from the marijuana and broader drug reform movement. But some reformers questioned what the shift would actually mean on the ground, pointing to DEA raids and federal prosecutions that have occurred since Holder's signal this spring that the feds were to back off, as well as continuing controversies, especially in California, over what exactly is legal under state law. Others noted that for real protection to be in place, federal law -- not just prosecutorial policy -- needs to change.

Not everyone was pleased with the move. Comments critical of the move have come down from some conservative politicians and a handful of newspaper editorial boards. But they appear to be a distinct minority.

In the memo, federal prosecutors were told that going after people who use or provide medical marijuana in accordance with state law was not the best use of their time or resources. According to the memo, while the Justice Department continues to make enforcing federal drug laws a key mission:

"As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana. 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."

But the memo also said that federal prosecutors should continue to target marijuana production or sales operations that are illicit but hiding behind state medical marijuana laws. It explicitly singled out cases which involve violence, the illegal use of firearms, selling pot to minors, money laundering or involvement in other crimes.

"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, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal," said Attorney General Holder.
DOJ memo
Head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske was quick to point out that the memo didn't legalize marijuana or medical marijuana, and that prosecutions could continue. "It is important to recognize that these guidelines provide clarity for federal prosecutors regarding the appropriate use of federal resources," he said in a statement Monday. "They do not declare marijuana, whether 'medical' or not, as legal under federal law; nor do they preclude the appropriate prosecution, under federal law, of marijuana dispensaries in those states that allow them. The Department of Justice's guidelines strike a balance between efficient use of limited law enforcement resources, and a tough stance against those whose violations of state law jeopardize public health and safety. Enforcing the law against those who unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit will continue to be an enforcement priority for the US government," the drug czar warned.

The DEA was also quick to point out that while it "welcomes" the new guidelines, it will continue to go after "criminals." "These guidelines do not legalize marijuana," the agency said in a Thursday statement. "It is not the practice or policy of DEA to target individuals with serious medical conditions who comply with state laws authorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Consistent with the DOJ guidelines, we will continue to identify and investigate any criminal organization or individual who unlawfully grows, markets or distributes marijuana or other dangerous drugs. Those who unlawfully possess firearms, commit acts of violence, provide drugs to minors, or have ties to other criminal organizations may also be subject to arrest."

Despite the disclaimers and demurrals, patient advocates hailed the move. "This is a huge victory for medical marijuana patients," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, the nationwide medical marijuana advocacy organization, which had been in negotiations with the Justice Department to get written guidelines issued. "This indicates that President Obama intends to keep his promise not to undermine state medical marijuana laws and represents a significant departure from the policies of the Bush Administration," continued Sherer. "We will continue to work with President Obama, the Justice Department, and the US Congress to establish a comprehensive national policy, but it's good to know that in the meantime states can implement medical marijuana laws without interference from the federal government."

"This is the most significant, positive policy development on the federal level for medical marijuana since 1978," said the Marijuana Policy Project in a message to its list members Monday.

"It's great to see the Obama administration making good on the promises that candidate Obama made last year. These new guidelines effectively open the door to sensible collaboration between state governments and medical marijuana providers in ensuring that patients have safe and reliable access to their medicine," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "What remains unclear is how the Justice Department will respond to rogue state attorneys, such as San Diego's Bonnie Dumanis, who persist in undermining state medical marijuana laws in their local jurisdictions. Now is the right time for the Obama administration to move forward with federal legislation to end the irrational prohibition of medical marijuana under federal law."

While the policy memo was "encouraging," the "proof will be in the pudding," said California NORML head Dale Gieringer, who also cited the recent raids in San Diego, as well as the August federal indictment of two Lake County medical marijuana providers. "Note that the new Obama policy has a glaring loophole, emphasizing that 'prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, and... it is not a good use of federal manpower to prosecute those who are without a doubt in compliance with state law,'" Gieringer said. "The salient question is, who decides what is 'without a doubt' in compliance with state law? As shown by the recent statements of LA's DA and City Attorney, there exist significant doubts about the legality of most dispensaries in California. It remains to be seen how far the administration's new policy guidelines will go to prevent further abuses, when what is really needed is fundamental reform of federal laws and regulations."

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley was not concerned about the subtleties of the policy shift as much as he was about turning a blind eye to a violation of federal law. "I think that marijuana is a gateway to harder drug use," Grassley said in a Wednesday statement. "Medical marijuana brings a certain amount of legitimacy to an illegal drug, even though it attempts to do it in a legal way. We have a federal law that is intended to outlaw its use. That federal law ought to be enforced. It was enforced in the previous administration and I think having a national program against drug use is very, very important."

Demonstrating a lack of information about who is supplying California medical marijuana dispensaries, Grassley attempted to link them to Mexican drug cartels. While some medical marijuana providers may be acting legally under state law, he said, "most of the marijuana that flows into the United States comes from the drug lords."

But Grassley appeared to be fighting a lonely rear-guard action. In what may be a sign that even politicians in Washington understand the popularity of medical marijuana, the Obama administration move has generated little other critical comment from the right or from the mainstream media. While numerous newspaper editorial boards have come out in favor of the move, the Christian Science Monitor was nearly alone among major newspapers in condemning it.

And so opens the next chapter in America's long, twisted path to the acceptance of medical marijuana.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Much Ado About Nothing

I really don't see why everyone is so jubilant about this. *This piddling memo is not a change of law* and any D.A. or U.S. Federal attorney will still be able to prosecute at will---and no doubt will. Didn't Obama already say all this in his campaign speech at New Hampshire? How well was that promise kept? I hate to say it but all this is much ado about nothing.

The medical monopolies silent genocide

Let’s look at the facts
1) From their nicotine patch to their Parkinson’s drug they control the crave
2) They will tell you they only make designer steroids for the athletics and breathalyzer pills for the Europeans, but they only lie about their fen fen and their viox
3) Their stated mission is to create a need and then fill it; they are in it for the profit
4) Nixon had to do something to silent the anti war protestor, when they can arrest the beatnik poet 33 times in one year but they could not silence them, they needed a drug war
5) The largest jail population in the world, the land of the free! But you can be assured that the Louisiana sheriff who refused to marry an interracial couple wouldn’t use the crave. If he had the technology
6) With two shootings every night in every major city you can be assured that we are just helping these people
7) With 12 people any night of the week pushing their drugs on the street while the honest pot dealer is beaten in the ally with their Billy clubs
8) It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why they work so hard to keep weed illegal
9) They will try to tell you there are no criminals in LA, no one in California needed the money more than some hot shot Nazi to play high roller and target someone like chech and Chong
10) The Carolina sheriff wins a presidential medal for destroying all these honest decent black people only to find out he was the scum bringing all the drugs into his town
11) Chambers gets paid a million dollars a year for lying in court, the people above him knew he was lying and the people below him knew he was lying, and when the Post Dispatch newspaper pointed out what a back stabbing coward he was they do nothing his victim still remain
12) They take 6 million dollars out of the poor and black neighborhoods and after spending $5000.00 dollars on badges they can only account for 3million dollars, none was spent on roads schools or welfare
13) From Duke University to Hulshof, to Salvatie it’s top down protocol
14) The gold and black gang member in new York city decides to put an end to all the crime and violence on the street resorting the rule of law and bringing the real criminals to justice only to latter claim that he is being poisoned and they trump up some other charge 60 minutes TV show
15) They steal cars from the handicap and attack the cancer patient and scoliosis patient blatantly ignoring the will of the people from California to Missouri.
16) They single out American citizens not the strong but our old and sick and demand that Canada changes its laws to stop the poor from saving a dollar on their heath care.
17) They get on the front page of the newspaper boasting of how they make their garbage in the labs to rip off the poor and unsuspecting
18) They tell you the economy is just soo bad that the guy had to rip off 13 convenience stores in a 3 month time period; he couldn’t just rip off one to buy what he needed or wanted
19) The California preacher during the guns for Iran program, rev Wright these all are just some crazy
20) They admit they work to run the smoker broke but they wouldn’t do that to the poor and black
21) you can be assured that if they did control the crave the raciest money hungry Nazi would just let the people know and stop persecuting the Thomas Edison’s (a Coke head) George Washington and Henry Fords, pot heads and restore our freedom.
22) From David Copperfield to Chris Angel these magician and people like them wouldn’t be using some high technology weapons to eliminate the undesirables.
23) South African doctor gets caught using a high tech weapon to inject people with the aids virus and some high government official flies in takes it and nothing further said. CBS60 min
24) They spray paraquat on the weed knowing that it did nothing but give the smoker cancer and they get a promotion if they agree not to put paraquat on the weed any more
25) From their contaminated vaccines to their campaign against the smokers, drinkers and donut eaters these gods in white coats and their bounty hunter are selling out our freedom.
26) What lie will they tell about you when they come after you with the crave and criminalize you for barring arms against their harms.
27)10,000 people a year die on the streets fighting for what they claim they need or want and you either pay endlessly for their incompetence or your considered crazy
28) They made a refugee the governor of California libertarian, tortured; until he pissed blood then they gave him a chemical substitute for weed and said it had nothing to do with weed.
29) Time magazine puts a huge pot leaf on the front cover and points out the true science of weed is being subverted
30) Dow chemical, petrol chemical was instrumental in turning people free choices into a war on drugs, a retired Dow scientist is the one who made the meth recipe
31) Petrol chemical, connection to the Arabs and the talibomb as we have to pay $4.00 a gallon.
32) with the billions they make off the people you can be assured that the Arabs wouldn’t have bought the MK ultra program or their Edgewood research that was suppose to be shelved in the 1960s
33) There attack against small business using healthcare and promoting their right wing philosophy has gutted our cities until all we have left is churches
34) Is the right wing secretly supported by the petrol chemical and talibomb to promote their form of morality?
35) The only thing different from the right wing and the talibomb is one is a cult

Read more in the book about Christians and freedom


Let's talk about the real issue here: we have a rogue government agency in the DEA. They know better than anyone that end of marijuana prohibition is the end of the agency. Other drugs rank far bellow marijuana on the DEA radar, with cocaine and opiates reserved for headlines.
What I'm getting at is that Obama knows that the drug war is no longer about "saving the children" and is now about the DEA's desperation to keep funds flowing to them, this could get ugly. If he drafts legislation that seriously undermines the DEA what will its response be?


I predict, you can quote me,,,,,, "THERE WILL BE MORE RAIDS on MMJ PATIENTS". They DEA arent just gona lay their vests, badges, and guns down, there are too many people dependant on the drug war and prohibition. Parolers, rehabs centers, jails and prisons all make $$ , imaging how dead the the DOJ would be if "DRUGS" were legal. there would be no referalls from officers and drug programs.

yeah, thanks for nothin'

So, cousin Barrack is going to ask prosecutors to not pursue cases against people who haven't broken the law? To "back off" from cases against sick people (grown-ups, all) who use the one side-effect-free drug known? While turning the full force of their precious war against the rest of us bad ol' drug users? While continuing to put people in prison for doing what he, himself, has done?

What's REALLY bizarre is that the Drug Policy Alliance is calling this a "victory." If this is a victory, I'd hate to see what defeat looks like. Oh, wait -- I already have.

Point taken, but...'s time you grew up politically speaking...this is a victory (DPA is right) -- in fact, it is probably the biggest thing to happen in this field in 30 years. Progress is being made, albeit not fast enough for those of us who understand the damage caused by prohibition.

- George

Jean Boyd's picture

Drug War

The War has been a long time in the making. After years of negative laws, prisons, police, DEA, all drug busts, etc., it is good to feel a breath of sanity from the powers that be. Maybe this is the beginning of the avalanche. People KNOW that we have to stop building jails and prisons and that this senseless war against our own selves is wrong. Perhaps it is just one crack in the system, that opens up the crooked foundation for all to see. Now is the time to stand together and make the change.

Medical Cannabis and prohibition in general,some questions:

What would Dr. Ron Paul do? When will unsustainable global fossil based drug and oil corporations stop being allowed to own and control government policy and workers? Cannabis natural health helps and heals! Peace

Emmet C's picture

Chuck Chuck Out

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley was not concerned about the subtleties of the policy shift as much as he was about turning a blind eye to a violation of federal law. "I think that marijuana is a gateway to harder drug use," Grassley said in a Wednesday statement.

Chuck's ignorance regarding medical marijuana is surpassed only by his ignorance in general. His reply to my letter supporting the removal of Federal restrictions on the cultivation of hemp was essentially "Ooooo, drugs bad. Think of the children!" ignoring the fact that hemp does not equal marijuana. I guess he is sticking with what he does well - ignorance.

As a resident of Iowa, Chuck will receive my vocal opposition when up for re-election this cycle. ("Chuck Chuck out in 2010")

Senator Grassley says we should "think of the children"

The drugs laws regarding alcohol vs. cannabis are about as cynical a law as you can imagine. That's what Senator Grassley wants to teach children: that justice is just a game in America. But what can you expect from someone willing to throw medical marijuana patients to the wolves to make a point about recreational cannabis users. When's the last time cannabis killed someone in Iowa, Senator? And don't tell me about a black market related shooting, they are caused by cannabis prohibition, not cannabis. Now your fucking killer DRUG alcohol, on the other hand...

Medical Marijuana

My name is Charles Kwiatkowski, I've had multiple sclerosis for thirteen years, but my MS is not just my problem. It affects my wife and three daughters as well. The fact that marijuana relieves my symptoms of jerking with spasms and twitching, in addition to the resulting pain is a miracle, although an illegal one at that. I have been disabled for the past eight years, unable to continue with my former career at AT&T, so it is my family that I spend most of my time with now. My daughters are ages three, eight, and nine years old. I don't know how I could even begin to tell them why I hurt so much on some days, and not so much on others. All that they want is for their father to not be in so much pain. They don't know that it's the current laws against medical marijuana that is the cause of those bad days.

Last week, all my three year old wanted was a piggy-back ride. She kept tugging at my pant leg, just like all three year old's do. It really hurt me, and I ended up making her cry! And my wife? We've known each other since sixth grade, and she doesn't deserve to have to figure out how to console her daughter and deal with a husband in pain at the same time. I've lived in New Jersey all of my life. It's not right that there are thirteen other states that I could live in and legally have less pain than I have in my home state.

I have tried all of the legal drugs prescribed by my well meaning physician. She sees that Oxy Cottin, Roxicette, Vicaden, Baclofen, Neurontin, Elavil, or even Ambian for sleep have not sufficiently reduced my symptoms. She also sees that the side effects of some of these legal medicines can be worse than the symptoms they are trying to treat. My legs have been rendered useless enough to require a wheelchair when under the care of these drugs, without the addition of marijuana. I have experienced blindness as well, that's as scary as anything I know. I don't think that I should have to break the law to be able to walk better, see better, have less pain and be a father to my children as well as husband to my wife.

As for all of the ill effects of smoking marijuana that you hear about today? Even if all of them were true..... they would still call them side-effects. The side-effects of medical marijuana is not a problem in my home. The side-effect of medical marijuana being illegal is the only problem. You can take the first step in making my home state a place where my family and I can continue to live, without MS getting the best of us all. Your vote here today will affect whole families, not just those who are suffering where medical marijuana could be of help.

"Marijuana is the safest therapeutically active substance known to man....safer than many foods we commonly consume." -- DEA Judge Francis L. Young, Sept. 6, 1988

I was on pain managment for

I was on pain managment for 4 1/2 years FOR 8 SCREWS IN MY BACK AND 2, 9 INCH TITATNIUM RODS 90 mg methadone 62 mg dilaudids 1500 mg somas daily. I stopped 15 days ago cold turkey and went through HELL ON EARTH. there is no explaining the withdraws. It is like a demon is being sucked out of your mind for 6 days straight lost 62ILBS in 15 days. I KNOW IF I WAS A MED MARIJAUNA PATIENT I WOULD HAVE MY JOB, MY MIND BACK, NO W/ DRAWS,OPIATTES SUCK THEY SHOULD BE BANNED. .I AM LAID OFF WE CANT AFORD MEDS BUT WE GOT ONE WE COULD POSSIBLEY GROW OURSELVES AND KNOW WHAT IS IN THE MEDS .THNX GOD BLESS YA

Stop Gov Christie's Delay on NJ Medical Marijuana

Greetings Editor,

I am writing this letter with great concern and frustration due to the Christie Administration's lack of transparency as to the process in which the Department of Health and Senior Services is writing regulations to implement NJ’s Medical Marijuana law. The program is now facing delays due to Gov. Christie's lack of interest in complying with the will of our elected legislators, preventing it from going into effect in July. I have to live with Multiple Sclerosis today, not tomorrow. I am sick right now and therefore I need medicine right now. I have spent countless hours of testimony throughout this entire legislative process, struggling for the right to legally access my medicine and now fear that myself and other patients have been disenfranchised by the Governor of the right we worked so hard to gain.

My major concern is that the DHSS progress on implementation has so far been held entirely behind closed doors and is therefore highly questionable? While delays get passed. I was told the process would be highly transparent but it would have to include patients, doctors, scientists and patient advocates. It hasn't been thus far. I remain an active member of The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, a patient advocacy group who offered to share their expertise and knowledge free-of-charge was recently told that they would not allow anyone outside of the DHSS to be involved with the implementation process. How could the DHSS have never even recorded ANY ACTUAL START DATE? Not any start date of implementation or anything like that, just when did they all begin on page 1? Was it on the date specified with in the law, Jan 20, 2010? It has all been kept so secret that patients were never even informed of any of its process AT ALL! A start date? For their fact-finding to occur?

One of the largest supporters of medical marijuana, now ex-Republican State Senator Bill Baroni was appointed to become Deputy Executive Director of the NJ/NY Port Authority by Gov. Christie and now has no say in these legistative matters. This seems like an unusual, sudden and random change of career for someone whose background and areas of expertise fall primarily within the realms of law, education and the arts.

Maybe the delays are related to the fact that the new DHSS commissioner appointed by Gov. Christie is Dr. Poonham Aligh - the former national medical head of pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline?

As for all of NJ’s sick or terminally ill residents that could have benefit from medical marijuana this summer, my forecast appears to be all sleep, all morphine or oxycontin all the time. It looks like we’ll continue to listen to crickets chirp in bed while the Christie Administration finds more room to make excuses delay what was already the strictest law in the Nation.

As time passes by, I will continue to become paralyzed from MS. I want to be able to live life to the fullest before that happens.

Medical Marijuana is the only thing that gives me the opportunity to have the same quality of life that everyone else takes for granted.

Hope to see you all at the beach someday, if Gov. Christie lets me?

Charles Kwiatkowski
Hazlet, NJ


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