Reiterating its earlier policy statements, the Justice Department has given federal prosecutors the go ahead to prosecute dispensaries and licensed growers of marijuana for violating federal drug and money-laundering laws – even in states that have legalized the drug for medical purposes.
In a policy memo to federal prosecutors obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, Deputy Attorney General James Cole clarified that a 2009 memo by then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden did not protect states from prosecution.
Beginning in February, several U.S. Attorneys have told state officials saying they will enforce the Controlled Substances Act, even in state jurisdictions that have allowed the sale of marijuana. They cite Ogden’s memo for authority, even though that same memo also urges prosecutors not to focus on medical marijuana users.
Cole’s memo reiterates the view that marijuana prosecution is not a priority, but he more than leaves the door open for prosecutors.
“The Odgen Memorandum was never intended to shield such activities from federal enforcement action and prosecution, even where those activities purport to comply with state law,” Cole wrote. “Consistent with the resource constraints and the discretion you may exercise in your district, such persons are subject to federal enforcement action, including potential prosecution.”
The ambiguity of that discretion worries many state officials, who are charged with enacting medical marijuana statutes.
For example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie put the brakes on his state’s program while he awaited guidance from the DOJ, and Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has filed suit against the department seeking a court judgement on whether state officials could implement the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.
Attorney General Eric Holder said last month that he would clarify the department’s stance on enforcement, but has not yet released an official statement.
And Congress have also gotten into the act. Last week, a bipartisan group of congressman introduced a bill to end the federal prohibition of marijuana, essentially allowing states free rein to regulate the drug.
To date, 16 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana’s use.