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. Joshua Snyder says:

      I wonder if the people still fighting against cannabis in the government actually believe the bull shit that they say, or if they’re doing this purely out of spite because we have finally beat them and the truth is out there now. Are they just ignorant buffoons, or are they a cornered weasel fighting until their last breath.

    2. Jeff says:

      do not vote for obama..put his ass in prison

    3. Shaun says:

      Why are the fighting this?? Wouldnt it be easier to controll and regulate in a few large grow sites vs. A bunch of smaller ones??

    4. The American Genesist says:

      We the People of the United States of America – regardless of what prohibitionists think or say – hereinafter declare a “Conscience Clause” which forbids Genesists from complying with any law that prohibits our Sacrament. We claim the right to the religious use of Manna as our Sacrament, given to us by God [God giveth – and – only God can taketh away]. Because of it’s medicinal efficacy, we also claim it’s medical use. My references are The Bible, Genesis, Chapter I:1 – Genesis, Chapter I:29,30,31, and “Establishment Clause” in The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.
      Therefore be advised:
      The American Genesist will not be available for “prohibitionists” in the up coming election or any election thereafter. In the meantime – stand aside – you’re obstructing my path of individual freedom. – which I will honorably defend with my life.

    5. Steve says:

      Why? Because they’re a bunch of dicks!!!

    6. David762 says:

      “Why are the Feds still meddling in states medical marijuana laws?”
      Sorry, Paul Armentano, but was that a rhetorical question?

      It couldn’t be that the Feds have the power (fiscal, regulatory, and military) to ride rough-shod over States’ Rights, and individual rights & liberties, and the fascistic will, incentive, and inclination to do exactly that. Besides job & budget preservation for our “War of Drugs” warriors, there are crony corporatist interests to uphold. The Feds can never publicly admit that natural marijuana smoked, ingested, or otherwise is actually one of nature’s most respected medicines — to do so would be to tacitly admit that 40+ years of the “War of Drugs” (and really 70+ years of Prohibition) were not just misguided but wrong.

      At least 3 landmark studies of the effects of marijuana upon society and humankind (Siler Commission Report, Panama Canal Zone c1939; LaGuardia Commission Report, New York City c1944; and Shafer Commission Report, Washington, DC c1972)
      have refuted the Federal government’s position regarding the dangers of marijuana and upheld at least 10,000 years of beneficial coexistence between cannabis sativa and homo sapiens.

      There are, must be, other factors at work — suppression of minority rights, support of crony corporations, and the 800 pound elephant of self-interest in the room, civil asset forfeiture laws. But not science, that’s for certain.

    7. Chris says:

      Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding the medical use of marijuana (Cannabis). Despite the good intentions of the State Legislature in its attempts to clarify the often confusing laws regarding the medicinal use of cannabis, you can still be prosecuted for it even if licensed for medical use by the State. The United States federal government does not currently recognize any legitimate medical use of marijuana.

      Eleven States, including Washington have made attempts to circumvent the Federal Controlled Substances Act to no avail. On June 6, 2005 the Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales v. Raich that Congress may ban the use of cannabis even where states approve its use for medicinal purposes. Unfortunately, if we were to pass HB 1550, it would make it even more confusing, not less. Unless the Food and Drug Administration reverses its position or there is an act of Congress marijuana will still be considered a controlled substance despite the efforts of the State Legislature to otherwise allow its use.

      Many local law enforcement agencies are required to enforce the federal law in exchange for federal dollars. So while the State of Washington may not be committing resources to implement the Federal Controlled Substances Act, local law enforcement agencies may still be required to impose it.

      I know this is not the answer you wanted to hear, I wish we could find an alternative way to help those who might benefit from the use of cannabis. Please know I understand your position, however this problem can only be addressed on a federal level. Thank you again for contacting me, I hope I have addressed your concerns.

      Judy Warnick
      (360) 786-7932
      Modular Building C, room 201
      PO Box 40600
      Olympia, WA 98504-0600

    8. Bobby D.Denning says:

      The federal govt.must understand that their part in this marijuana being legal is not for them to decide . They should keep out of other peoples lives, besides who asked them for their intervention anyway? They should just go for the people by the people, not war against the United States. They cannot be controlling when it comes to the people etc. They must be controled so they can’t complicate anything anymore. Federal govt.needs reform or forgotten. Do we really need to fight communism in the USA too?

    9. Cloverhill says:

      Please follow up on this.

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