Obama Announces Federal Medical Marijuana Policy

Today, the Department of Justice released guidelines to clarify the enforcement of federal policy on people in states with medical marijuana legislation.  The new guidelines prioritize federal law enforcement resources for drug traffickers and money launders and explicitly state that prosecuting those in compliance with state law should not be a priority.

As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana. For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.

If the feds stick to these new guidelines, states like Rhode Island and Michigan will be able to create regulations around a system of cannabis distribution. It will also make it more likely for those dispensaries in compliance with state law in California to set a clear example for what other medical marijuana dispensaries in the state should look like.

While fourteen states have legalized the medical use of marijuana, the federal government has, especially under the Bush administration, prosecuted medical marijuana patients, caregivers, and dispensaries, even when in compliance with state law.

President Obama stated on numerous occasions during the primaries that he did not think arresting medical marijuana patients was a good use of Department of Justice resources. Yet raids on collectives and dispensaries, mostly in California, continued even after Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Obama's stance on the issue was "now American Policy."

Will the DoJ stick to its guns? It's hard to tell. But resources and money are scarce, and support for outright legalization is up around the country. A recent Gallop Poll has 44% of Americans saying they want to see pot legalized. That same poll showed that 78% of self-proclaimed "liberals" supported legalization.