KJZZ’s Steve Goldstein interviews John Leonardo who was recently appointed as the U.S. Attorney for Arizona. Mr. Leonardo says the following in the interview:
Question: “Can you give us the perspective on how this office is going to how that jives with state and federal law?”
John Leonardo: “It’s an unusual situation in that state law conflicts with federal law and of course when that happens federal law prevails. Having said that I think the Department of Justice has spoken with one voice. All U.S. Attorney’s that I am aware of have addressed have all concurred in that statement that is that the possession of marijuana is a violation of federal law, but we are going to concentrate our resources on prosecuting those that are significant traffickers under the Controlled Substances Act. We doubt that it would be a efficient and appropriate use of our limited resources to be prosecuting people who are in compliance with state law and perhaps using marijuana as part of a medical treatment for some serious disease such as cancer or something along those lines.”
Mr. Leonardo’s statement that the DOJ won’t prosecute seems limited to patients, but he did not address whether his office will prosecute Arizona licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, their owners and landlords. Why?
Why does the Department of Justice refuse to state in clear understandable terms whether it will prosecute people who are involved in growing, selling and possessing marijuana in connection with providing services for a medical marijuana dispensary that is licensed by the Arizona Department of Health Services and complying with Arizona’s medical marijuana laws? The following statement is the stated and restated position of the Department of Justice with respect to state legal medical marijuana:
“The federal government will ‘vigorously enforce’ federal laws against those who ‘operate and facilitate large marijuana production facilities and marijuana production facilities involved in the cultivation, sale and distribution of marijuana, even if purportedly for medical purposes’.”
What the DOJ has done is prosecute some dispensaries and their owners and not prosecute others. See Federal Attacks on Dispensaries. The decision to prosecute or not prosecute seems to be completely at the whim of the DOJ. For example, the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the U.S. is Harborside Health Center in Oakland, but it has not been shut down nor have its owners been charged with violating federal marijuana laws. Instead, the DOJ seeks to cause the owners of the land on which Harborside operates two dispensaries to forfeit the land and the IRS is seeking millions of dollars in back taxes from Harborside. See “IRS Claims Harborside Health Center Owes $2.5 Million in Back Taxes on Sales of $22 Million” and “Feds Sue to Take Land Occupied by Harborside Health Center, the Largest Medical Marijuana Dispensary in the US.”
Why won’t the DOJ tell people exactly when it will prosecute and when it will not prosecute state legal medical marijuana dispensaries? The DOJ has a duty to be clear on this issue. If its goal is to prevent the growing and selling of medical marijuana in all or some circumstances then tell the public in clear unambiguous statements what it will do. Why keep people in the dark and allow them to spend huge amounts of money and spend large amounts of time to pursue an activity that will result in convictions for felonies and jail time? Not only will clarity save people from making a bad decision it will also save the DOJ tons of money because the DOJ will not have to prosecute people who will get involved with medical marijuana dispensaries because they mistakenly read the DOJ’s statements as saying the DOJ won’t prosecute state legal medical marijuana dispensaries.
Plea to Mr. John Leonardo, the U.S. Attorney for Arizona
Please do the right thing with respect to the people who intend to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Arizona. If you are going to raid and shut down dispensaries and prosecute those involved then tell them now in clear unambiguous terms. Do your duty. Deterrence may not work for many crimes, but it will definitely work with respect to the owners of prospective Arizona medical marijuana dispensaries. These people are now spending large amounts of money that they would not spend if they knew they were going to be prosecuted or their business was going to raided and shut down even if they will not be prosecuted.