Medical Marijuana Raids

Will Federal Medical Marijuana Raids Continue?


While it's good news that the Obama administration is putting its less aggressive approach to medical marijuana in writing (as Nick Gillespie and Peter Suderman noted earlier today), the ambiguity about which forms of cannabis distribution are legal under California law means the policy shift may not amount to much in practice. Today Attorney General Eric Holder is instructing federal prosecutors in the 14 states where the medical use of marijuana is permitted that prosecuting patients, growers, or distributors who are complying with state law is not a good use of Justice Department resources. That stance, which Holder first described in March, fits pretty well with what President Obama said during his campaign. But it can be reversed at any time, and even if it isn't the Drug Enforcement Administration can still participate in raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that local officials consider illegal. In Los Angeles County, as Brian Doherty noted a couple of weeks ago, that category includes pretty much every dispensary, since District Attorney Steve Cooley takes the position that state law does not permit over-the-counter sales. Officials in other jurisdictions hostile to medical marijuana, such as San Diego, can be expected to agree with that interpretation, even though it contradicts Attorney General Jerry Brown's reading of the law. In recent months, the DEA has joined raids initiated by law enforcement officials in L.A. and San Diego. Until the law is clarified by the courts or the legislature, the federal government will have plenty of opportunities to interfere with the distribution of medical marijuana in California, even when it is going to bona fide patients.

Update: The memo (PDF) leaves substantial wiggle room:

As a general matter [you] 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. On the other hand, prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority of the Department. To be sure, claims of compliance with state or local law may mask operations inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of those laws, and federal law enforcement should not be deterred by such assertions when otherwise pursuing the Department's core enforcement priorities.

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  1. “who are complying with state law”

    That’s the “grey clause”. It means things will continue as is.

  2. I don’t think we(Californians) should leave it up to the courts to decide.

    Our MMJ laws are poorly thought-out. We need to go back to the voters and either approve the current quasi-legal system of dispensaries, or clarify some system whereby patients who are too sick to grow can obtain medicine in exchange for money.

    What we have right now sucks – law abiding folks are prevented from opening businesses to serve the needs of patients.

    We trusted the courts to define what the word ‘caregiver’ meant and they chose to favor the government’s position. Let’s not let them make any more decisions ‘clarifying’ our MMJ laws.

    1. No. You just need to legalize weed for all.

      1. Mega-dittos. Medical marijuana has created more hypochondriacs than military conscription. Let all Californians stand up loud and proud and stoned.

      2. It will come – but in the meantime let’s fix the broken medical system.

      3. Agree with Skid Marx. We do NOT need a clumsily-crafted statute creating an affirmative right to use marijuana under some or all circumstances. We simply need to repeal all existing state statutes proscribing marijuana, while perhaps retaining an age limit. California law currently defines a drug (for the purposes of driving only) as any substance other than alcohol which can impair ones’ ability to drive. Similar legislative action should be taken by the United States Congress.

  3. Will Federal Medical Marijuana Raids Continue?

    Yes. Next question.

    1. It is the new full employment plan. Federal drug stores will issue weed and the fed cops will bust them, then they go to federal prison.

      More cops in the streets, more prisons in the country.

      1. Broken bong fallacy?

  4. Why are you even covering this? We all know it’s not going to amount to any kind of net change.

    Here’s how it works:

    If Obama says he’s going to do something, and that something is bad for the country and/or the individual, he’s probably going to try to do it.

    If Obama says he’s going to do something, and that something would be good for the country and/or the individual, he’s lying and isn’t going to lift a finger to do it.

  5. I think we need to give Obama the benefit of the doubt for the time being, personally. This policy, while imperfect, is still miles ahead of what we got from Bush or even Clinton. Let’s see what happens when it’s put into motion before we declare it a sham and a fiasco.

    1. If he pardons Charlie Lynch, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. So far, I’m not impressed.


  6. If Obama says he’s going to do something, and that something would be good for the country and/or the individual, he’s lying and isn’t going to lift a finger to do it.

    Regardless, I bet the DEA is apoplectic over this announcement. I bet $20.00 if anyone ever tries to assassinate Obama, that it is by a pissed off DEA agent who can’t live without pinning somone’s cranium between his knee and the concrete.

  7. Of course, the policy is incoherent. What is the justification for pursuing federal charges if and only if the perp also broke state law?

    If he broke state law, the state can take care of it and don’t need the feds. If he didn’t break state law, but broke federal law, we’re just going to let him walk?

    I would be interested to see if there is any kind of equal protection claim in here. How is federal law being applied equally when some violators, by policy (not prosecutorial discretion) get to walk, while others get the book thrown at them?

    1. Maybe someone will try? IANAL, but it sounds like a valid defense.

  8. and even if it isn’t the Drug Enforcement Administration can still participate in raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that local officials consider illegal

    Neither here nor there, but isnt the pressure on local departments to prosecute these sorts of things put on them by the fear that if they don’t, the feds will go over their heads and supercede them in any case?

    I would assume that with the fed/DEA losing interest in these types of cases, that local officials will feel less obliged to ‘be tough’… although I could be missing something.

  9. Slut- you are too cynical.
    Obama means well but remember that he is going into a machine of a federal government that has been running along with little executive interference for years. Give him time to get a little control of his bureaus.
    People are being so impatient.
    I’ve been watching the war on MJ for several decades and there is more good will and positive action and movement happening now than ever.
    The raids must continue because of the sleazy reputation some of the abusers are earning. The drug thugs can go to hell for selling my medicine to support their meth habit.
    I want MJ for my pain and a little euphoria, and a few selfish creeps with the idea of legally fu**ing the consumer just like they’ve been doing in the shadows is hurting the perception of mainstream America regarding pot.
    We’ve got to get this right and I’m hoping to someday be able to put an extra plant or two in my garden every year.
    I suffer from multiple back injuries and I’m not willing to hurt any longer than necessary because of criminal exploitation by greedy trailer trash punks.
    Shut ’em down if they don’t squeak with cleanliness.
    He isn’t perfect, but Obama Rocks!

    1. “He isn’t perfect, but Obama Rocks”

      What else are you on in addition to weed?

    2. Why do you think they call it dope?

  10. The federal policy might have some healthful effects in turning off some of the funding incentives. Norm Stamper and those guys have the most airtight public choice argument of all time with their explanation of how federalized drug war distorts local police department policies. The last big L.A. bust (in 07 or 08, IIRC), was DEA all the way, with the LAPD just providing force protection. Potentially, if the feds are not actively encouraging this, the local cops will lose interest as well, be cause there won’t be any money in it, other than selling off the seized drugs.

  11. Obama means well but remember that he is going into a machine of a federal government that has been running along with little executive interference for years. Give him time to get a little control of his bureaus.

    You have obviously been smoking the REALLY good shit.

  12. The Obama administration will not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers

    [P]rosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people

    “Will not seek” = will not try to discover, but will continue anyway.

    “Not a good use of their time” = we waste plenty of other resources, so continue.

    Continuing to study Obamaese …

    1. Obamaese

      I am so using that.

      1. Rich has been studying (and translating) Obamaese for quite some time. I have learned from him.

  13. Cops like busting stoners, therefore they will continue to do so as long as they have the slightest legal jurisdiction to do so.

    Actually “stoners” could be a wildcard in this case.

  14. Cops like power, and the drug war gives them a tremendous amount of it. They will resist legalization like Warty resists showering.

  15. Although cynicism is a virtue, this is the first good news to come out of the federal government on marijuana since about 1977, so I would say that’s a pretty big deal.

    1. What was in 1977 Paraquat?

    2. So this is what it feels like to have federal smoke blown up my ass…

  16. If a few obamabots interpret this as “Obama wants to legalize MJ”, that isn’t a bad thing since pro-legalization will now become their opinion as well.

  17. Libertarians are adooorabble!

  18. Marijuana would be the smartest thing for this country to invest in, jack up taxes on it, grow it here in the US, that’s the answer to the economy problems. People spend more on marijuana per month than alcohol, restaurants, hospitals, etc. I have a pharmacy in my med cabinet from old “let’s try this one” prescription drugs from my psych dr that have done more dammage to my mental state than marijuana has ever. I am able to work and have a normal life thanks to marijuana, nothing that any prescription drug could ever do for me

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