Why Are The Feds Still Meddling With States’ Medical Marijuana Laws?

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 15, 2011

    It was just three years ago when President Obama (then candidate Obama) famously pledged to no longer use federal “Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws” regulating the physician authorized use of medical cannabis. And it was in the fall of 2009 that the administration issued the Ogden memorandum to federal prosecutors directing them to not “focus federal resources … on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

    Yet in recent days the administration has seen fit to interject itself in the ongoing legislative debate to establish and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington state. Last week, on the eve of a final House vote regarding Senate Bill 5073, the U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington issued a statement warning landlords that they could face forfeiture of their properties if they rent to licensed medical marijuana facilities. Undeterred, the House passed SB 5073 (the Senate had previously passed an earlier version of the bill), setting up a potential showdown between lawmakers and Democrat Gov. Chris Gregoire.

    In an April 14, 2011 letter to Gov. Gregoire from the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorneys Jenny Durkan of Seattle and Michael Ormsby of Spokane wrote, “[W]e maintain the authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act vigorously against individuals and manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”

    The letter continues: “The Washington legislative proposals will create a licensing scheme that permits large-scale marijuana cultivation and distribution. This would authorize conduct contrary to federal law. … Accordingly, the Department [of Justice] could consider civil and criminal legal remedies who set up marijuana growing facilities … or who knowingly facilitate the actions of the licensees. … [S]tate employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune from liability under the Controlled Substances Act.”

    Predictably, Gov. Gregoire is now shying away from the proposal. As reported by the Seattle Times, the Governor stated “In light of the Department of Justice’s guidance, it is clear that I cannot sign a bill that authorizes our state employees to license marijuana dispensaries when the department would prosecute those involved.” The Times noted that Gregoire “pledged to work with lawmakers on a new proposal.”

    Is the Governor using the Feds’ letter as political cover to denounce a measure that she never intended to sign in the first place? Maybe. But the bigger picture is that the federal officials still seem content to selectively interject in the state lawmaking process as it pertains to the medical access to marijuana.

    Will the Feds most recent threats have a potential chilling effect on pending legislation in Delaware, Illinois, and Vermont — additional states where lawmakers recently voted in favor of establishing similar state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries? And what, if anything, do these threats imply for states like Colorado, Maine, New Mexico, and Rhode Island where such facilities have already been authorized by the state? Time will tell, but at present time it’s not looking good.

    ‘Change we can believe in?’ Not when it comes to medical marijuana policy.

    136 responses to “Why Are The Feds Still Meddling With States’ Medical Marijuana Laws?”

    1. Manford Mantis says:

      Prohibitionists are “obsessed” with fear – a fear that will destroy them – and – our country with them. If not fear [then] they are “obsessed” with the payola they receive from their puppet master(s). In either case – they’re “obsessed” – and – that’s a “sickness” – a “serious sickness – a cancer” that has absolutely no place in our government. “Oh ya – it’s time” – to rid our ailing government of prohibs. “Oh ya – it’s time” – to let them know what their future has in store for them [nothing]. “Oh ya – it’s time” – 4-20 @ 4:20. Prohibitionists are puppets [on or off the string] for their puppet master(s). A prohibitionist doesn’t have a soul – even less a conscience. Think of the prohibitionist as a arsonist – and – We the American People as a fire fighter.

      “Oh ya – it’s time for We the American People to take our rightful place as the leader of “our great country.” “Oh ya – it’s time” – to vociferate [speak out loudly] for our Constitution. “Oh ya – it’s time” – to reduce prohibitionists to a memory [bad memory] – but – not before we bring them to judgment..

    2. betty says:

      The Feds have interfered in too may issues…steroids by baseball players, NFL strike..mind ur own business, let the leagues handle their own problems..
      and not interfered in issues they should..discontinuing unemployment benefits for people who are still unemployed..they say that the unemplyment rate is down..that’s because people like me are not accounted for anymore..healthcare…POOR people living on the streets..helping to keep people out of jail..
      If the State has approved MMJ, and the citizens are OK with it..leave them alone..leave ill people have some relief of their pain..let us live in peace and quiet..

    3. Peter says:

      Why is this still a surprise that Obama is FOS? The guy was a politician from the most corrupt party, in the most corrupt city, in the most corrupt state in America. Of course he’s going to lie to get votes.

      Short of a second American Revolution, it’s going to take far more than hope and change to enact common sense in DC.

    4. William says:

      Yes, “Change you can believe in”, since nothing has changed guess we don’t have to believe the “candidate” Obama rhetoric. Keep Safe and Good Karma

    5. Rebel with a Cause says:

      The DOJ may claim Government’s Supremacy Clause to enforce the Controlled Substance Act [which itself is questionable]- but – the Constitution and the Supreme Court would disagree in that sovereign states have a sovereign right to control substances in that state – and – there is no conflicting interests in that. The DOJ, the DEA, and the ONDCP are violating our Constitution. Whether I’m right or wrong – “That’s the way it goes — talk to the hand.”

    6. THCommonsense says:

      i’ve been watching the news on federal cuts while all those politicians scratch their heads trying to coming up with a way to cut federal spending, create job growth and on top of that i just saw something on CNN about the mexican drug cartel border war. Why isnt government running the numbers on this failed system? Dont they see that the cartels are all about the cold hard cash which most of their profit comes from marijuana sales that come from American buyers?

    7. Smokey Joe says:

      It’s pretty simple people. If she won’t sign it, find someone who will and boot her to the curb already.

    8. Cat Cassie says:

      Marijuana is still a big no no even for the sick and dying. The privatized prisons have a lot to do with that. The more people they have the more money they make. Sick!!