Denying It Has Toughened Its Position, DOJ Warns States on Medical Marijuana
By David Baumann & Andrew Ramonas | May 9, 2011 4:49 pm

Catching some states by surprise, the Justice Department is taking a tough position on the issue of marijuana usage for medical reasons, warning states that legislation they are considering could subject growers and even regulators to prosecution.

As state legislatures across the nation consider measures to regulate the use of marijuana for medical reasons, several U.S. Attorneys have issued letters stating they they will not hesitate to prosecute people who run large-scale operations. The letters also imply that state regulators could be prosecuted if they approve and regulate the sale of the illegal drug, the New York Times reported.

In issuing the letters and also authorizing raids, the U.S. Attorneys appear to be making a distinction between those who use marijuana for medical reasons and those who grow and distribute the drug.

The letters led at least one governor, Christine Gregoire, to veto a proposal that would have created licensed dispensaries. Several other governors also are reconsidering their plans to allow distribution for medical reasons.

In passing legislation, states appear to be relying on a 2009 memo from Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, who wrote that DOJ drug enforcement efforts “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.”

In Washington state, U.S. Attorneys Jenny Durkan and Michael Ormsby wrote that the Ogden memo remains in effect, but that “we maintain the authority to enforce  the [Controlled Substance Act] vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”

In addition to the Washington state U.S. Attorneys, several other U.S. Attorneys have sent letters to state officials, including  John Walsh in Colorado, Dennis Burke in Arizona, Tristam Coffin in Vermont and Peter Neronha in Rhode Island.

“While the department has maintained that we will not focus our investigative and prosecutorial resources on individual patients with cancer or other serious diseases, the sale and distribution of marijuana continues to be a federal offense,” said DOJ spokeswoman Jessica Smith. “As long as the law remains on the books, prosecutions will continue.”

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