Apr. 17th, 2011

Obama admin threatens state employees with arrest if they enforce legal pot
Obama Administration Warns It May Prosecute State Employees if Gregoire Signs Medical Pot Bill

The top federal prosecutors in Washington sent a stern warning to Washington State that a medical-marijuana law passed by the legislature this week, which would license dispensaries and growers, could result in a wave of criminal charges against cannabis providers and even state employees. At the same time, in a mixed message, they telegraphed that the Obama Administration's policy of tacitly permitting states with medical marijuana laws would proceed.

"The Washington legislative proposals will create a licensing scheme that permits large-scale marijuana cultivation and distributions," wrote US Attorneys Jenny Durkan and Michael Ormsby, respectively representing the Western and Eastern districts of Washington State, in a letter sent today to Governor Chris Gregoire. "This would authorize conduct contrary to federal law and thus, would undermine the federal government's efforts to regulate the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of controlled substances. Accordingly, the Department could consider civil and criminal legal remedies regarding those who set up marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries as they will be doing so in violation of federal law. ... In addition, state employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune from liability..." including "criminal prosecution."

The letter was sent in response to an inquiry from Governor Gregoire to Attorney General Eric Holder (The federal prosecutors' letter is here and Gregoire's letter is here).

But this may not be as unequivocal as it first reads. AG Holder issued a memo in 2009 that indicates, in essence, the feds won't intervene with medical-marijuana cases that are in compliance with state laws. Holder said, of course, that the feds reserved the right to prosecute those cases.

In that vein, US Attorney Durkan also issued a statement today that "in every area we prosecute, our office works to focus our limited resources on impactful cases that implicate an important national or community interest. In the area of marijuana drug prosecutions, this means our targets include organized criminal groups, those who abuse public or tribal lands, people who commercialize the marijuana trade for profit or use it to finance other criminal activity, and doctors who abuse their positions and fraudulently certify individuals as medical marijuana patients. We have not prosecuted truly ill people or their doctors for using marijuana to lessen suffering, as permitted under state law."




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