ACLU Sends Letter to U.S. Attorney General Asking Feds to Backoff on State Legal Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

In a letter to the United States Attorney Eric Holder dated May 9, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Association (ACLU) expressed “deep concerns about recent threatening letters from several United States Attorneys from across the country regarding the potential initiation of federal prosecutions against persons who are complying with state medical marijuana laws.”  The letter says in part:

“We further assume that the low priority status extends not only to patients, but also those who license and distribute medical marijuana in full compliance with state laws that are designed to protect public safety by ensuring an orderly and appropriately circumscribed distribution process for medical marijuana.

The recent U.S. Attorneys’ letters also reflect a policy of obstructionism in the face of the complex and evolving issue of medical marijuana, which nearly one-third of the states have now decriminalized in recognition of the unique and substantive benefit this drug provides to patients with certain serious conditions. The states to which the recent U.S. Attorneys’ letters have been directed have wisely recognized not only the needs of patients and the value of marijuana as a medicine, but also the need for a rational distribution scheme that channels this drug to humanitarian uses without contributing to a black market. As a policy matter, the same protections that extend to patients should also be extended to state-licensed distributors or state employees who are in clear compliance with state law. The laws of the affected states further recognize that it is not enough to permit patients to use the medicine; there must be a mechanism for growing and distributing medicine that provides a safe method of access. The state laws and detailed regulations implementing distribution promote both public health and public safety. The U.S. Attorneys’ implied threats of prosecution against those who are merely following state law are thus inconsistent with the administration’s announced intention to end the “war” on drugs and adopt a public health approach to drug policy.”

By |2011-05-20T08:08:30-07:00May 20th, 2011|Marijuana Crimes, Stories & Articles|Comments Off on ACLU Sends Letter to U.S. Attorney General Asking Feds to Backoff on State Legal Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Washington Legislature Passes New Medical-marijuana Law, Governor Threatens Veto

Seattle Times:  “The Legislature passed a major overhaul of the state’s medical-marijuana law on Thursday despite a veto threat by the governor, a measure that would for the first time protect some patients from being arrested and create a system for licensing storefront dispensaries and grow operations. . . . But Gov. Chris Gregoire reiterated her opposition to the licensing scheme, saying she won’t sign it because state workers could be held liable for violating federal law”

The Washington Governor wrote a letter dated April 13, 2011, to Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States.  The following day, the U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern and Western Districts of Washington responded to the Governor’s letter.  Interesting to note that the Department of Justice responded to the Washington Governor’s request the before the U.S. mail could have delivered the letter to Eric Holder, but it has not yet responded to a similar request from the New Jersey Attorney General.  See “N.J. Attorney General asks Obama Administration if N.J. Medical Marijuana Program Violates U.S. Law.”  The text of Governor Christine Gregoir’s April 13, 2011, letter follows.

April 13, 20 11

The Honorable Eric Holder
Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania A venue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder:

This letter requests written guidance on the Department of Justice’s position on enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act if state law were to establish a regulatory system wherein state officials license persons to dispense, produce, and process marijuana for medical use by qualifying patients. By way of background, in 1998 the voters of the state of Washington determined that patients with terminal or debilitating illnesses, under their physician’s care, who may benefit from the use of medical marijuana, would not be guilty of a crime under state law for their possession and limited use of marijuana. It is our understanding that the Department of Justice does not focus its resources on individuals who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen in compliance with state law, as outlined in an October 2009 Memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Ogden.

The Washington Legislature, concerned with a lack of sufficient and safe supply of medical marijuana, has under consideration Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5073. This legislation would provide for the Departments of Health and Agriculture to license persons to dispense, produce, and process cannabis for medical use. Licensed dispensers would select, measure, package, and label cannabis for delivery or retail sale to a qualifying patient or designated provider. Licensed processors would manufacture, process, handle, and label cannabis products for wholesale distribution to licensed dispensers. Licensed producers would produce cannabis for medical use for wholesale distribution to licensed dispensers and licensed processors of cannabis products.

In recent days I have been in contact with the United States Attorneys for the Western and Eastern Districts of Washington regarding this legislation. They referenced a February 1, 2011, letter that the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California wrote to the Oakland City Attorney in response to a request for guidance on the City of Oakland Medical Cannabis Cultivation Ordinance. The letter indicated that the Department of Justice would enforce the Controlled Substances Act against individuals and organizations that market and sell marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law, consistent with the guidance set forth in the 2009 Memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Ogden.

Within the next week lawmakers will be considering the differing versions of this legislation and determining what provisions of state law they will enact and forward to me, as Governor, for approval or disapproval. It would be very helpful to receive clear guidance on the Department of Justice enforcement position and whether the 2009 Memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Ogden should be read to encompass the activities that would be licensed under this state legislation. Also, it would be helpful if the guidance addressed whether state employees involved in inspecting the premises, auditing the records or collecting fees from the licensed dispensers, producers or processors would be immune from arrest or liability when engaged in the enforcement of this licensing law.

Thank you for your assistance as we make these important decisions.


Christine 0. Gregoire

To read the U.S. Attorney’s response to this letter see “U.S. Attorney Will Prosecute Dispensary Owners, Landlords who Rent to Dispensaries & State Employees Involved in State Medical Marijuana Laws.”

By |2017-02-12T07:38:38-07:00April 28th, 2011|Federal Dispensary Attacks, Marijuana Crimes, Stories & Articles|Comments Off on Washington Legislature Passes New Medical-marijuana Law, Governor Threatens Veto

N.J. Attorney General asks Obama Administration if N.J. Medical Marijuana Program Violates U.S. Law  “The debate over the legality of medical marijuana in two western states has prompted State Attorney General Paula Dow to ask the Obama administration whether New Jersey’s future program could violate federal law.  Dow’s office sent a letter late today to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to clarify whether those licensed to grow or sell pot — as well as the state workers who will administer the program when it launches later this year — could face arrest.”  The letter said in part:

“As the state’s chief legal adviser to all of the departments in the Executive Branch, many of which are participating in carrying out the medical marijuana legislation, it is critical that I properly advise them as to the potential criminal and civil ramifications of their actions in carrying out their duties,” according to Dow’s letter.  Accordingly, I ask that you provide me with clear guidance as to the enforcement position of the Department of Justice relative to New Jersey’s medical marijuana legislation and the scope of the entities and individuals who may be subject to civil suit or criminal prosecution,”

This request is a major development in the state legal medical marijuana industry.  Will the U.S. Attorney General answer the questions posed by the N.J. Attorney General?  If so, the U.S. Attorney General’s answer could potentially kill the entire industry.  Eric Holder is being asked to fish or cut bait.  The Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and the Attorney Generals of the other states that have legalized medical marijuana should get on the band wagon and send similar requests to Eric Holder.

A related story in the Arizona Republic today headlined “Medical marijuana: Federal pressure stirs legal confusion” discusses the implications arising from the fact that people involved in state legal medical marijuana industry are also violating federal criminal marijuana laws.

“Threatened medical-marijuana crackdowns by federal prosecutors in other states have stoked fears about whether state employees, dispensary owners and others could be punished for operating under Arizona’s fledgling law. . . . Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke’s office says it will offer guidance this week for state officials. . . . The uncertainty surrounding the new state law increased reluctance for landlords to lease to dispensaries and unsettled state Department of Health Services workers. . . . Washington’s U.S. attorneys said the legislation appears to violate federal law and could put state workers at risk for prosecution. . . . Earlier this month, Michael Ormsby, U.S. attorney for Washington’s Eastern District, sent notices to 40 property owners that house dispensaries, warning that they could be violating drug-trafficking laws.  Ormsby told the landlords to evict the tenants within 30 days or face the risk of prosecution.”

The U.S. Attorney should not leave the state legal medical marijuana industry in the dark.  Too many people have invested their valuable time, money and resources in the states that have legalized marijuana and they deserve to know if they will be prosecuted or not.  The need to know is especially important in a state like Arizona that recently legalized medical marijuana, but has not yet have any dispensaries.  Mr. Holder, if you intend to prosecute owners of Arizona medical marijuana dispensaries and their employees, tell them now before they spend substantial amounts of money and violate the law.  It’s your duty!  If you intend to prosecute dispensary owners and/or state employees involved in implementing or administering state legal medical marijuana laws, tell them now and you will be preventing the future violation of federal laws and the need to prosecute violators.

By |2011-04-21T07:36:27-07:00April 21st, 2011|Marijuana Crimes, Stories & Articles|Comments Off on N.J. Attorney General asks Obama Administration if N.J. Medical Marijuana Program Violates U.S. Law

October 19, 2009, Department of Justice Guidelines to Federal Prosecutors on Medical Marijuana in States that Have Legalized Its Use

Department of Justice Guidelines for Federal Prosecutors in States that Legalize Medical Marijuana

On October 19 , 2009, “Attorney General Eric Holder announced formal guidelines for federal prosecutors in states that have enacted laws authorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Those guidelines are contained in a memo from Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden.”  The following is the text of the Department of Justice  medical marijuana letter.

October 19,2009


FROM: David W. Ogden, Deputy Attorney General

SUBJECT: Investigations and Prosecutions in States Authorizing the Medical Use of Marijuana

This memorandum provides clarification and guidance to federal prosecutors in States that have enacted laws authorizing the medical use of marijuana. These laws vary in their substantive provisions and in the extent of state regulatory oversight, both among the enacting States and among local jurisdictions within those States. Rather than developing different guidelines for every possible variant of state and local law, this memorandum provides uniform guidance to focus federal investigations and prosecutions in these States on core federal enforcement priorities. (more…)

By |2015-04-06T18:49:24-07:00December 30th, 2010|Legal Issues, Marijuana Crimes|Comments Off on October 19, 2009, Department of Justice Guidelines to Federal Prosecutors on Medical Marijuana in States that Have Legalized Its Use
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