After five U.S. Attorneys in recently issued letters stating the position of the Department of Justice is to prosecute people involved in growing and selling marijuana, local Arizona medical marijuana law pundits have dug deeper holes into which they have inserted their heads.  Yesterday, Peter F. Neronha, the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island hand delivered a letter to the Governor of Rhode Island that said he intends to prosecute the people involved in Rhode Island’s three medical marijuana dispensaries that are scheduled to open in June and July.

The U.S. Attorney also delivered his letter to the owners of the three yet-to-be opened Rhode Island medical marijuana dispensaries.  In response to the letter, the Governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln D. Chafee, suspended the licensing of the state’s three prospective medical marijuana dispensaries.  The text of the Governor’s press release follows:

“May 2, 2011

“Statement from Governor Lincoln D. Chafee Regarding Compassion Centers

“The United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island delivered a letter to me on Friday afternoon which was copied to the Director of the Department of Health and the three Compassion Center applicants. That letter, as well as similar letters sent to officials in other states, clarified the Department of Justice’s position on medical marijuana. The Department of Justice previously indicated that it would not focus its limited resources on doctors and their sick patients who prescribe and use marijuana if such use was permitted by state law. This position was interpreted by some states as giving them latitude to authorize medical marijuana cultivation and distribution programs. Friday’s letter makes it clear that DOJ will now pursue certain commercial cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana, even if such cultivation and distribution is permitted by state law. Compassion centers, their owners, landlords, financiers and other operations “facilitators” are identified as potential targets of federal law enforcement activities.

“None of Rhode Island’s compassion center applicants have received a certificate of registration to date. In light of the United States Attorney’s articulated position on closing compassion centers, seizing proceeds and prosecuting business enterprises that market and sell medical marijuana, I have placed a hold on the State’s medical marijuana certificate of registration program. During this hiatus, I will be consulting with the governors of other states with similar medical marijuana programs, with federal officials and with the compassion center applicants themselves.”

Here in Arizona our medical marijuana law pundits said the following after Dennis Burke’s letter of May 2, 2011, in which he said it is a core priority of the Department of Justice to prosecute those who grow and sell marijuana unless they are patients or caregivers who strictly comply with Arizona’s medical marijuana laws.

“But attorney Jordan Rose, who has been advising those going into the business, said no one should be worried. She said nothing in Burke’s letter is markedly different than what has been said U.S. attorneys in other states with medical marijuana laws” – from “Arizona’s federal prosecutor issues warning over medical marijuana.”

Commenting on recent raids of dispensaries in California and Montana, Joe Yuhas said the “raids appear to be isolated. And Joe Yuhas, spokesman for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association, said he doesn’t expect similar problems here” – from “Arizona’s federal prosecutor issues warning over medical marijuana.”

[Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services Will] “Humble said, he does not expect most dispensaries to wind up under federal scrutiny. ‘Really, it’s not about whether you’re in compliance with your state law but rather are you a large-scale actor who’s manufacturing, distributing, possessing, marketing in clear violation of the (federal) Controlled Substances Act,” he said.  Humble said that’s borne out by reading a bit between the lines of what Burke did — and did not — write.” – from “Arizona’s federal prosecutor issues warning over medical marijuana.”

  • “US attorney issues warning over Ariz medical pot”

Will Humble said “I think it’s a pretty clear shot across the bow for applicants who intend to have large-scale cultivation facilities or a big dispensary . . . . ‘I believe the federal government ought to enforce their laws,” Gov. Jan Brewer said. ‘I have been calling on them to do that with regards to illegal immigration, and they have refused, so I guess that they pick and choose which ones they want to enforce’. . . . ‘I think the biggest impact the letter could have would be to cut down on the number of dispensary applications that we get, especially for people who have a lot to lose and people that were planning to have a business model that included large-scale cultivation or a large dispensary,’ he [Will Humble] said. “Because it makes it clear that even if they were in total compliance with our rules … they could go to the pokey.”

  • “Arizona’s federal prosecutor issues warning over medical marijuana”

“Potentially more significant, Burke had special words of caution to those who are in the business of growing marijuana even if they have a cultivation license from the state. And he said even those on the periphery, including property owners, landlords and organizations which finance dispensaries, risk not just federal criminal prosecution but also having the assets seized.”

“U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha Friday threatened to prosecute civilly and/or criminally those involved in Rhode Island’s three planned medical marijuana dispensaries — from the organizations that would run them to the landlords who rent them floor space.  The threat was contained in a letter hand-delivered to Governor Chafee’s office in the morning and also sent Friday to the would-be proprietors of the dispensaries.”

  • “Chafee puts hold on RI medical-pot centers”

“on Sunday, in an interview with The Providence Journal, the U.S. Attorney said he hoped the dispensaries don’t open because he considers them to be large-scale for-profit cannabis production centers that are against federal law.”

“Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee said Monday he has put a hold on the state’s medical marijuana certificate of registration program after receiving notice that it could violate federal law.”

“U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha said Sunday that he hopes that Rhode Island’s three state-approved medical-marijuana dispensaries don’t open and that if they do, “I might have to take some action” against them in court to prevent cultivation and distribution of the cannabis.  ‘I don’t think it would be a wise move’ for them to start cultivating large amounts of marijuana, or selling it, Neronha said in a telephone interview. . . . Neronha says he considers the planned dispensaries, which some call “compassion centers,” large-scale, for-profit cannabis production businesses that are against federal law. . . . Neronha said it has never been his intention to prosecute the ‘small-time caregivers’ who are growing small amounts of marijuana for ill people. . . . But medical-marijuana dispensaries are a different story, he said.”

“‘The Department of Justice maintains the authority to enforce [federal law] vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law,’ Neronha wrote. ‘The [state law], the registration scheme it purports to authorize and the anticipated operation of the three centers appear to permit large-scale marijuana cultivation and distribution. The Department of Justice could consider civil and criminal legal remedies against those individuals and entities who set up marijuana-growing facilities and dispensaries’ . . . .”