Huge News: Obama Administration Ends Medical Marijuana Raids in 13 States

by Ben Morris

Huge news!

The Obama administration issued guidelines today clearly stating that the federal government will not arrest medical marijuana patients or providers who comply with state law. This development is the most significant, positive policy change for medical marijuana patients since 1978.

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According to Justice Department officials, the orders sent today to federal prosecutors, the DEA, and the FBI clearly state that medical marijuana patients and providers who are in compliance with state law should not be arrested or prosecuted by the federal government. This codifies statements made by the attorney general earlier this year.

The policy is a signal of support for medical marijuana from President Obama and the new administration. And the guidelines are exactly what MPP’s Aaron Houston asked for in a congressional hearing earlier this year.

Under the Bush administration, the feds raided, arrested, and otherwise terrorized medical marijuana patients and their caregivers. Even in the 13 states with medical marijuana laws, patients still lived in fear. With this new policy change, medical marijuana patients finally know exactly where they stand with the law and can focus on their health, not their legal status.

To help MPP build on this momentum, please write your member of Congress. We’ve set up an action item online to make this quick and easy. You can also help by sharing this blog post on Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and other social network sites online.

Justice Dept. to Stop Pursuit of Medical Marijuana Use

by David Stout

WASHINGTON — People who use marijuana for medical purposes and those who distribute it should not face federal prosecution, provided they act according to state law, the Justice Department said on Monday in a directive with political and legal implications.

In a memorandum to federal prosecutors in the 14 states that allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, the department said it was committed to the “efficient and rational use” of its resources and that going after individuals who were in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state laws did not meet that standard.

At the same time, the department emphasized that it would continue to pursue those who use the concept of medical marijuana as a ruse for drug trafficking. “Marijuana distribution in the United States remains the single largest source of revenue for the Mexican cartels,” the department said in pledging that prosecuting the makers and sellers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, would remain a “core priority.”

The Justice Department policy statement, foreshadowed since shortly after President Obama took office, was laid out on Monday in an announcement by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who made public a memo from David W. Ogden, the deputy attorney general, to the United States attorneys in the affected states, most notably California.

The announcement formalizes the Obama administration’s departure from the policies of former President George W. Bush, under whose administration federal agents raided medical marijuana distributors that violated federal statutes, even if the distributors appeared to be complying with state laws.

Advocates of medical marijuana say the substance can reduce chronic pain, nausea and other ailments associated with cancer and other serious illnesses. In 1996, California became the first state to make it legal to sell marijuana to people with doctors’ prescriptions. The other states that allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes are Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

“This is a major step forward,” said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports legalizing the substance. “This change in policy moves the federal government dramatically toward respecting scientific and practical reality.”

The Justice Department indicated that the memo should not be interpreted as legalizing marijuana. “Rather, this memorandum is intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion,” the department said.

But there will inevitably be clashes, in political arenas and in courtrooms, over what constitutes “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state laws, and whether marijuana distributors ostensibly in business to provide the substance for medical use are being infiltrated by drug cartels.

Solomon Moore contributed reporting from Los Angeles.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Obama's Commendable Change in Federal Drug Enforcement Policy

by Glenn Greenwald

This is one of those rare instances of unadulterated good news from Washington:

The Obama administration will not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws, under new policy guidelines to be sent to federal prosecutors Monday.

Two Justice Department officials described the new policy to The Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state laws.

The new policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.

Criminalizing cancer and AIDS patients for using a substance that is (a) prescribed by their doctors and (b) legal under the laws of their state has always been abominable.  The Obama administration deserves major credit not only for ceasing this practice, but for memorializing it formally in writing.  Just as is true for Jim Webb's brave crusade to radically revise the nation's criminal justice and drug laws, there is little political gain -- and some political risk -- in adopting a policy that can be depicted as "soft on drugs" or even "pro-marijuana."  It's a change that has concrete benefits for many people who are sick and for those who provide them with treatments that benefit them.  So credit where it's due to the Obama DOJ, for fulfilling a long-standing commitment on this issue.

Beyond the tangible benefits to patients and providers, there is the issue of states' right.  Fourteen states have legalized medical marijuana, many by referendum.  The Bush administration's refusal to honor or even recognize those states' decisions -- by arresting people for doing things which are perfectly legal under state law -- was one of many examples giving the lie to the conservative movement's alleged belief in federalism and limited federal power (see here, for instance, how John Ashcroft and GOP Senators tried deceitfully and undemocratically to exploit the aftermath of 9/11 to prevent Oregon from implementing its assisted suicide law).  Constitutionally and otherwise, what possible justification is there for federalizing decisions about whether individuals can use marijuana for medical purposes?  Ironically (given the "socialism" and "fascism" rhetoric spewed at it by the Fox News faction), the Obama administration's decision is a major advancement for the rights of states to have their laws respected by the federal government.

This action also reflects the clear sea change taking place, both domestically and especially internationally, regarding drug policy.  When Mexico decriminalized drugs for "personal use" in August, the silence -- including from Washington -- was deafening:

Quietly and with little ado, Mexico last week enacted a law to decriminalize possession of small amounts of all major narcotics, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and crystal meth. Anyone caught in Mexico with two or three joints or about four lines of cocaine can no longer be arrested, fined or imprisoned. However, police will give them the address of the nearest rehab clinic and advise them to get clean. . . .

In 2006, Mexico's Congress approved a bill with almost exactly the same provisions. However, the Administration of George W. Bush immediately complained about the measure and then President Vicente Fox refused to sign it into law. In contrast, officials of the Obama Administration have been decidedly guarded in commenting on the new legislation. When asked about it in his visit to Mexico last month, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said he would "wait and see." Many view such a change as evidence that Washington is finally reconsidering its confrontational war on drugs, four decades after Richard Nixon declared it. "There is a growing opinion that the use of force has simply failed to destroy the drug trade and other measures are needed," says Mexican political analyst José Antonio Crespo. "It appears that the White House may be starting to adjust its approach."

The failure of the drug war and criminalization schemes is so glaring that, despite its previously taboo nature (taboos enforced by the U.S. in various ways), it is being rapidly acknowledged around the world.  Even though the paper I wrote for the Cato Institute on Portugal's success with decriminalization was published almost six months ago, I now receive more invitations than ever to present the paper, especially at meetings of government officials and policy makers in Latin America, because almost every country in the region is now actively re-considering its criminalization approach to drug policy.  Even a modest willingness on the part of the U.S. government to pursue or even tolerate alternative approaches could play a major role in accelerating that process, as countries in virtually every region of the world have long been coerced by Washington to maintain strict criminalization approaches and to embrace the destructive Drug War model.

The War on Drugs is the pernicious precursor to the War on Terror in so many ways, beginning with the relentless erosion of civil liberties; endless expansions of federal powers of detention, surveillance and militarized involvement in other countries; and a general pretext for remaining in an endless "war" posture.  Anything that moves even a little bit towards abandoning the orthodoxies which sustain it should be applauded.  And whatever else is true, being free of gun-wielding DEA agents is a real benefit for people with serious illnesses and those who provide them with medical treatments prescribed by their physicians.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy.

Judge Lifts Los Angeles Ban on New Cannabis Clubs

by Solomon Moore

LOS ANGELES — A temporary moratorium on establishing new medical marijuana dispensaries here was ruled invalid by a county judge on Monday, complicating the city’s efforts to crack down on cannabis clubs.

The judge, James C. Chalfant of Superior Court, granted an injunction on behalf of Westside Green Oasis, a medical marijuana shop, which had challenged a Los Angeles ordinance that put a moratorium on new dispensaries in 2007. The club, which opened after the City Council halted the establishment of new shops, said the moratorium violated the state’s Compassionate Use Act.

The moratorium was intended as a stopgap measure to give city officials time to establish permanent regulations. State law lets a city impose moratoriums of up to two years while it establishes ordinances governing medical marijuana.

The Los Angeles ban in 2007 permitted only 186 marijuana dispensaries. Two years later, hundreds more medical marijuana shops have opened, and the City Council has yet to pass a permanent ordinance governing medical cannabis.

“Recently, the city has been trying to enforce its moratorium — writing threatening letters and threatening to fine landlords,” said Robert A. Kahn, a lawyer for Westside Green Oasis and about 20 other medical marijuana shops. “If I can’t reach an agreement with the city attorney, then I will be filing another lawsuit on behalf of the rest of my clients.”

David Berger, an assistant city attorney, acknowledged that the moratorium on new dispensaries was procedurally invalid because the City Council tried to establish a 90-day ban instead of a 45-day one allowed by state law.

“We would probably not try to enforce the ordinance against other dispensaries because the judge has just said that we can’t do that,” Mr. Berger said.

The judge’s final written decision is expected soon. In the meantime, Mr. Kahn and the city attorney will discuss how to apply the ruling to other dispensaries.

Carmen Trutanich, the Los Angeles city attorney, has argued that over-the-counter sales of medical cannabis are illegal. Guidelines published by the state attorney general, Jerry Brown, say the law allows for nonprofit sales of medical cannabis.

“We can still use state law to enforce, and we still believe that the only legal way to do that is to enforce against the selling of marijuana, as opposed to giving it away as a collective,” Mr. Berger said.

At the time of the original ordinance in 2007, there were only about 200 medical marijuana shops. Now, there are more than 800.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

States Lead the Way

by James E. Gierach

Finally, a Washington administration has restored common sense to drug policy. No longer need the sick and dying fear that the federal government is peeking through the window shades or second-guessing the people, the states, the patients and their physicians over marijuana as medicine.

Hopefully, the Obama administration will drive many more stakes through the heart of the drug-war beast that not only never helped reduce drug consumption but put more drugs everywhere as a byproduct of prohibition.

Hopefully soon, the common people and the states will also recognize that the drug war is at the heart of most other American crises as well: guns, gangs, crime, prisons, taxes, deficits, AIDS, health care, trade imbalance, the corruption of cops and kids, underfunded schools and job programs, and the funding of terrorism. Maybe the states can lead the federal government out of the whole drug-war fiasco.

James E. Gierach, an Illinois lawyer, is a former Cook County prosecutor.

New Poll Shows Record Support for Marijuana Legalization

by Ben Morris

A new Gallup poll released today shows 44% support for making marijuana legal in the U.S., a record high for this particular poll. The poll also shows 53% support in the west.


While we’ve seen higher numbers in the past, and the level of support varies from poll to poll, this recent number shows a trend that’s undeniable: Americans are quickly realizing that taxing and regulating marijuana is preferable to prohibition.

The chart below shows the change in attitudes among various groups. Notice that all of them have increased since 2005.


Marijuana has higher approval than Congress, Iraq & Afghani Wars

by Mike Meno

Monday’s Gallup poll showing that a record 44% of Americans favor making marijuana legal has brought increased attention to the need for an open, national debate on marijuana policy.

The fact that 44% percent of people favor taxing and regulating marijuana is even more impressive because—in stark contrast to many other public policy issues—for once, a substantial number of Americans actually view an issue favorably.

After all, Americans are a finicky bunch. We don’t like much these days, and in 2009 it’s impressive for anything to get 44% approval ratings. In fact, according to the latest numbers from a variety of polling sources, the idea of taxing and regulating marijuana enjoys higher support among the American public than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the top Democrat and top Republican in the House of Representatives, and—perhaps not surprisingly—Congress itself.

Take a look at these figures:





President Obama’s job performance



Gallup, Oct. 22.

Legalization of marijuana



Gallup, October crime poll

The war in Afghanistan



CNN/Opinion Research, Sept. 15

The war in Iraq



AP-GfK Poll, Oct. 1-5

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)






Gallup, July

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio)






Gallup, July

Congress’s job performance



Gallup, Oct. 6

Based on these numbers, as well as the growing mainstream media coverage of marijuana issues, there is no longer any doubt that Americans see marijuana policy reform as a legitimate mainstream issue worthy of national debate. Let’s keep talking!

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