On April 13, 2011, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him if Washington state employees would be prosecuted for implementing Washington’s new medical marijuana law.  The next day, April 14, 2011, the U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern and Western Districts of Washington sent a letter to the Governor of Washington that contains a clear statement that the U.S. Attorney will prosecute people involved in the medical marijuana industry, including state workers who implement or oversee state medical marijuana laws.  The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, Melinda Haag, sent a letter dated February 1, 2011, to the City of Oakland that also said that she would prosecute people involved in the “industrial growing of marijuana.”

These three U.S. Attorneys each said that they consulted with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder about the state legal medical marijuana issue and that their letters state the U.S. Attorney General’s position   From these two recent letters it is apparent that the Department of Justice is giving a clear warning to everybody in the state legal medical marijuana business other than patients and caregivers that they risk prosecution for violating federal criminal laws involving marijuana.  DHS are you listening?  The text of the letter follows.

April 14, 2011

Honorable Christine Gregoire
Washington State Governor
P.O. Box 40002
Olympia, Washington 98504-0002

Re: Medical Marijuana Legislative Proposals

Dear Honorable Governor Gregoire:

We write in response to your letter dated April 13, 20 11, seeking guidance from the Attorney General and our two offices concerning the practical effect of the legislation currently being considered by the Washington State Legislature concerning medical marijuana. We understand that the proposals being considered by the Legislature would establish a licensing scheme for marijuana growers and dispensaries, and for processors of marijuana-infused foods among other provisions. We have consulted with the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General about the proposed legislation. This letter is written to ensure there is no confusion regarding the Department of Justice’s view of such a licensing scheme.

As the Department has stated on many occasions, Congress has determined that marijuana is a controlled substance. Congress placed marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and, as such, growing, distributing, and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws permitting such activities.

The prosecution of individuals and organizations involved in the trade of any illegal drugs and the disruption of drug trafficking organizations is a core priority of the Department. This core priority includes prosecution of business enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana. Accordingly, while the Department does not focus its limited resources on seriously ill individuals who use marijuana as part of a medically recommended treatment regimen in compliance with state law as stated in the October 2009 Ogden Memorandum, we maintain the authority to enforce the CSA vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law. The Department’s investigative and prosecutorial resources will continue to be directed toward these objectives.

Consistent with federal law, the Department maintains the authority to pursue criminal or civil actions for any CSA violations whenever the Department determines that such legal action is warranted. This includes, but is not limited to, actions to enforce the criminal provisions of the CSA such as:

– 21 U.S.C. § 841 (making it illegal to manufacture, distribute, or possess with intent to distribute any controlled substance including marijuana);

– 21 U.S.C. § 856 (making it unlawful to knowingly open, lease, rent, maintain, or use property for the manufacturing, storing, or distribution of controlled substances);

– 21 U.S.C. § 860 (making it unlawful to distribute or manufacture controlled substances within 1,000 feet of schools, colleges, playgrounds, and public housing facilities, and within 100 feet of any youth centers, public swimming pools, and video arcade facilities);

– 21 U.S.C. § 843 (making it unlawful to use any communication facility to commit felony violations of the CSA); and

– 21 U.S.C. § 846 (making it illegal to conspire to commit any of the crimes set forth in the CSA).

In addition, Federal money laundering and related statutes which prohibit a variety of different types of financial activity involving the movement of drug proceeds may likewise be utilized. The Government may also pursue civil injunctions, and the forfeiture of drug proceeds, property traceable to such proceeds, and property used to facilitate drug violations.

The Washington legislative proposals will create a licensing scheme that permits large-scale marijuana cultivation and distribution. This would authorize conduct contrary to federal law and thus, would undermine the federal government’s efforts to regulate the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of controlled substances. Accordingly, the Department could consider civil and criminal legal remedies regarding those who set up marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries as they will be doing so in violation of federal law. Others who knowingly facilitate the actions of the licensees, including property owners, landlords, and financiers should also know that their conduct violates federal law. In addition, state employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune from liability under the CSA. Potential actions the Department could consider include injunctive actions to prevent cultivation and distribution of marijuana and other associated violations of the CSA; civil fines; criminal prosecution; and the forfeiture of any property used to facilitate a violation of the CSA. As the Attorney General has repeatedly stated, the Department of Justice remains firmly committed to enforcing the CSA in all states.

We hope this letter assists the State of Washington and potential licensees in making informed decisions regarding the cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of marijuana.

Very truly yours,

Jenny A. Durkan
United States Attorney
Western District of Washington

Michael C. Ormsby
United States Attorney
Eastern District of Washington