Holder: Medical Pot Prosecutions Not A Priority
By Andrew Ramonas | October 19, 2009 3:00 pm

The federal government isn’t likely to prosecute seriously ill people who smoke marijuana in states where medicinal use is legal, Attorney General Eric Holder officially announced today. But it doesn’t mean pot is now legal, Holder’s deputy said in a follow-up memo to U.S. Attorney offices.

Fourteen states have laws that allow very sick patients to light up. Since January, the Obama Justice Department has taken an informal position against medical marijuana prosecutions, reversing Bush administration policy.

Now, here’s the official word from Holder:

“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,” Holder said in a statement.

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) criticized the policy. “By directing federal law enforcement officers to ignore federal drug laws, the Administration is tacitly condoning the use of marijuana in the U.S.,” Smith said in a statement. “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.”

Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said in a memo to the 93 U.S. Attorneys that the DOJ marijuana policy does not “legalize” pot. ”(T)his memorandum is intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion,” Ogden wrote.

According to the memo, the Justice Department will continue to prosecute cases that meet these criteria:

  • unlawful possession or unlawful use of firearms.
  • violence
  • sales to minors.
  • financial and marketing activities inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of state law, including evidence of money laundering activity and/or financial gains or excessive amounts of cash inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law
  • amounts of marijuana inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law
  • illegal possession or sale of other controlled substances.
  • ties to other criminal enterprises.
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