DEA Agent Admits Medical Marijuana Laws Work

This piece in the Providence Journal is remarkable for several reasons. The stories of the real people who benefit from Rhode Island's medical marijuana law are simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring. This is required reading for anyone who doesn't understand why medical marijuana advocacy is so important.

One seemingly minor point caught my eye, and raises issues that need to be discussed at the national level:
Anthony Pettigrew, agent for the New England field office of the DEA, said that while marijuana possession is against federal law, "the DEA never targets the sick and dying." The agency is more interested in organized drug traffickers, Pettigrew said. "I've been here for 22 years," he said, and "realistically, I've never seen anyone go to federal jail for possessing a joint."
This is a significant and unusual concession on DEA's part. Pettigrew's argument essentially refutes the typical ONDCP strategy of intimidating patients and legislators in prospective medical marijuana states by arguing that medical users will remain vulnerable under federal law.

If DEA won't arrest patients and state police can't arrest patients, then medical marijuana laws work very well. DEA continues to raid dispensaries in California, but the totality of this activity utterly fails to undermine patient access or the spirit of the state's medical marijuana law. In fact, dispensary raids continue for the sole purpose of obscuring the otherwise obvious benefits of laws that protect patients.

It doesn't matter whether DEA's policy of not arresting patients is motivated by compassion, political sensibilities, funding constraints, or some combination thereof. The fact of the matter is that state laws are effective at protecting medical marijuana users from prosecution, which is their intended purpose. This simple fact demonstrates the importance of these laws, while also revealing how empty and fraudulent the federal government's threats against medical marijuana states truly are.
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Providence Sunday Journal article

This story has been great press for our young medical marijuana movement here in Rhode Island! Here at RI Patient Advocacy Coalition, we're very pleased with the article. All of the patients featured met at RIPAC meetings! www.RIpatients.org

paying attention

Scott hits the nail on the head with his commentary. DEA agents -- who are oftentimes politically motivated when they state their aversion to targeting individual patients and caregivers -- end up bolstering our claims that state-level medical marijuana laws really do protect the sick and dying from arrest. MPP drafted, funded, and passed the medical marijuana law in Rhode Island in 2006 and -- in its permanent form -- in 2007. It's gratifying to see that the DEA is saying the law will be allowed to work without federal interference. Who knew?
- Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.

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