Leaked Justice Dept. Memo May Seriously Cripple Medical Marijuana Movement

By Dirk Hanson 07/01/11

Deputy Attorney General says people selling or cultivating pot are “in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law.”

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Medical marijuana is fair game for Feds.
Photo via tokeofthetown

A leaked memo from the Justice Department, obtained by Bloomberg News, appears to renege on Obama administration promises to keep federal enforcement largely at bay in states that have passed laws allowing the use of medical marijuana. The June 29 memorandum, written by U.S. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole to U.S. attorneys, states that the so-called “Ogden Memo” of 2009, which had advised federal prosecutors that busting medical marijuana users was not “an efficient use of federal resources,” was never intended to shield large-scale growers from prosecution, “even where those activities purport to comply with state law.” At one stroke, the memorandum appears to give the lie to earlier suggestions that the feds would not actively interfere with such legislation. But neither state laws nor local regulations can be used as a defense if the feds come calling, according to the memo: “Within the past 12 months, several jurisdictions have considered or enacted legislation to authorize multiple large-scale, privately-operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers. Some of these planned facilities have revenue projections of millions of dollars based on the planned cultivation of tens of thousands of cannabis plants.”

There doesn’t seem to be any room for ambiguity in this announcement sent out to U.S attorneys nationwide. “Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law.” That’s what the federal government has been saying for about a century, and all this backpedaling suggests Obama feels he has no choice but to say the same thing. Tom Angell of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) said that the new memo leaked to the public today “confirms that this president is simply continuing the harassment and interference policies of the Bush administration when it comes to actually providing patients with their doctor-recommended medicine.”

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]