May 9, 2012

Medical Marijuana: The Feds Strike Back

Even as Connecticut became the 17th state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes last week, the DEA continues to bring the heat on some of the more visible pot crusaders across the country.  The latest to be busted is Richard Lee of Oaksterdam University fame in Oakland, California.

Despite assurances from the U.S. Department of Justice early in the Obama administration that enforcement of the federal Controlled Substances Act would not be a law-enforcement priority, in April the DEA capped a mounting campaign to arrest dispensary owners across California, Colorado, and Montana.  Many dispensary owners claim to have received letters from the DEA threatening criminal prosecution if the businesses do not cease and desist.

What has changed since the Ogden memo of October 2009, when Obama's DOJ signaled it would leave marijuana enforcement to the states?

One explanation is that when it came to dispensing marijuana, medicinally or otherwise, some folks started to make money; big money.  This led to the DOJ's so-called Cole memo last spring, which sought to "clarify" the previous Cole memorandum, and which provided a mandate to U.S. Attorneys to vigorously prosecute marijuana distributors and to "follow-the-money".

Strong voices in the pot lobby are crying foul, suggesting that operators within the DOJ [particularly in California and Colorado] are acting on their own, ignoring the official White House script on this issue.  For their part, some of the medical marijuana states are seeking an end to this chaos; bi-partisan legislators from five of those states signed an open letter to President Obama requesting that the DEA not interfere with their respective medical marijuana laws.

Well folks, because this is a presidential election year, don't look for the Chief to weigh in decisively on this one anytime soon.  For a glimpse into the mind of the voting public, you can peruse the 100+ comments to an article in the Economist on this subject.  Some excellent points on both sides of the issue are made in the forum.

No wonder Mr. Lee is calling it quits out in California at Oaksterdam; he obviously doesn't want to do a dime in the federal penitentiary as all this gets sorted out.  We here at the Law Blogger will, of course, keep you posted; we've been tracking this issue since 2008.


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