Medical-marijuana raids violate Obama pledge, critics say

A new Obama administration memo approves federal prosecution of anyone in the business of growing or supplying marijuana for medical patients even if they are complying with state law.

President Barack Obama had promised as a presidential candidate, and reaffirmed soon after taking office, th

at his administration would take a hands-off approach to medical marijuana and let states chart their own course.

But the memo to local U.S. attorneys, quietly issued June 29 by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, said, there has been “an increase in the scope of commercial cultivation, sale, distribution and use of marijuana for purported medical purposes.”

As a result, the memo said, “persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law.” Enforcement of that federal law, he added, “remains a core priority.”

Medical marijuana advocacy groups say that contradicts Obama’s pledges in October 2009 to let states set their own policies.

They also accuse the administration of violating its stated policies with frequent raids on suppliers in the 16 states with such medical marijuana laws, and more recently with warnings to officials in at least 10 states that they could face prosecution if they authorized dispensaries to sell pot to patients.

They said Cole’s memo comes close to repudiating Obama’s long-standing promise. The memo denies that, insisting that the Justice Department hadn’t abandoned the policy that Cole said was intended to spare seriously ill patients and their caregivers from prosecution.

But Steph Scherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, which describes itself as the nation’s largest medical marijuana advocacy group, said the administration is claiming to respect patients’ rights to use marijuana while “denying them the means to use it legally.”

“It is disingenuous of the Obama administration to say it is not attacking patients while obstructing the implementation of local and state medical marijuana laws,” Scherer said in a statement.

Because federal prosecutions would disrupt state-approved channels for supplying marijuana to patients, “the only entity benefiting from President Obama’s stance on this is organized crime,” said Tom Angell, spokesman for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which advocates drug decriminalization.

In 1996, California’s voters approved a law to allow patients to grow their own marijuana or obtain it from caregivers but did not expressly authorize other sources of supply. Pot dispensaries operate under local regulation but have faced periodic raids from federal authorities, who describe them as profiteering drug dealers.

The administration’s warnings to officials in other states have had an impact, said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access.

He cited threats of federal prosecution that led Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire to veto a bill that would have legalized medical marijuana dispensaries, and prompted Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee to shelve plans to license dispensaries under a 2009 state law.

But Hermes said Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed a law in May that legalized medical marijuana and state-regulated distribution centers. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin brushed off federal prosecutors’ warnings and approved four dispensaries for marijuana patients in June.

“We need local and state officials to stand up and not buckle to intimidation,” Hermes said.

More in Local News

Child porn found in forest treehouse and Mill Creek home

Daniel Wood, 56, has been charged with two counts of possession of child pornography.

The rules: You can’t put just anything on your vanity plate

The state keeps a “banned list” of character combinations that will automatically be denied.

Man arrested after robbery reported at Lynnwood Walgreens

He matched the description of a suspect in an earlier robbery reported about three miles away.

Driver killed in crash identified as Monroe man

Anthony Ray Vannelli Jr. died of blunt force injuries. He was 37.

Edmonds man gets nearly 14 years for murder of roommate

Derrick Crawford, 22, admitted that he shot and intended to kill 27-year-old Joshua Werner.

Motorcyclist seriously hurt in Everett hit-and-run

Police are searching for the driver and a gray Dodge Stratus with extensive front-end damage.

As expected, 92 to be laid off by Stanwood’s Twin City Foods

The frozen-vegetables processor announced last year it was moving all operations to Pasco.

Demolition begins on buildings acquired for courthouse remodel

The start date for major construction has been pushed back, but is still projected to wrap up in 2021.

Developer denied more time to submit plans for Woodway project

BSRE Point Wells wants to refine its plans for more than 3,000 units in towers of up to 17 stories.

Most Read