By: Don Duncan, Americans for Safe Access
In a move that impacts hundreds of thousands of medical cannabis patients nationwide, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) sent a chilling message tonight to state and local officials who are seeking to implement medical cannabis laws and to those trying to provide legal medicine: You may be prosecuted. In a memo to US Attorneys nationwide, US Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that
“Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities… are subject to federal enforcement action, including potential prosecution. State laws or local ordinances are not a defense to civil or criminal enforcement of federal law… Those who engage in transactions involving the proceeds of such activity may also be in violation of federal money laundering statutes and other federal financial laws”.
Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is calling on members and supporters to get ready for a large-scale national response to the DOJ threats that could stymie implementation of state and local laws and make getting medicine harder. We have to let President Obama know that federal interference and intimidation hurts patients — and we expect him to do better!
Preventing state and local governments from regulating medical cannabis activity is counterproductive and harmful to legal patients, most of whom cannot or will not grow their own medicine. Without anywhere to obtain their doctor-approved medicine, hundreds of thousands of legal patients are left to fend for themselves and are pushed into the unregulated illicit market. That is not what voters and lawmakers intended when they adopted medical cannabis laws in seventeen states and the District of Columbia.
The threat of using money laundering and other federal financial crimes is particularly onerous in the current political landscape. Under pressured federal pressure, many banks are denying services to medical cannabis providers; and the IRS is auditing providers in California and Colorado using antiquated codes designed to penalize drug cartels. Fanning these flames only makes meaningful regulation harder. Why not let legislation sponsored by US Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO) and Pete Stark (D-CA) address these issues without intimidating lawmakers, regulators, tax collectors, providers, and others?
This long-awaited clarification from the DOJ upholds the recent status quo of aggressive enforcement against state and local medical cannabis laws, in direct contradiction to Obama’s comment on the campaign trail that he was “not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws.” Until states and localities have the ability to adopt and enforce their own laws regarding the production and distribution of medical cannabis, federal interference and intimidation will continue to undermine the rights of the very patients the DOJ purports to recognize.
We can do better than the same old federal posture. President Obama should end the criminal prosecution of medical cannabis providers who are obeying state law and cooperate with state and local officials trying to implement rational, compassionate policies. A good first step would be to respond to the nine-year old rescheduling petition that seeks to remove medical cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The President could also support legislative efforts to harmonize federal law with the laws of the states where medical cannabis is legal. Support for US Representative Barney Frank’s (D-MA) HR 1983 would go a long way towards bridging the federal divide and reassuring state and local officials that it is OK to implement the law. It may also help persuade legal patients and providers that it is OK to obey it.