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Obama administration to begin prosecuting medical marijuana growers

by Wes Messamore, published
Photo: The Washington Examiner

In the 2009 "Ogden Memo," Obama's Deputy Attorney General, David Ogden signaled that the Obama Administration did not consider prosecution of medical marijuana patients an "efficient use of federal resources." But in a memo issued Wednesday by Deputy Atty. Gen. James Cole, the administration warned that commercial growing operations, even when compliant with state laws and operating for the purpose of supplying medical marijuana only, will be prosecuted by the Justice Department for violating the Controlled Substances Act.

Critics of the federal "War on Drugs" hoped that the Ogden Memo indicated a significant change in federal drug policy, and under the cover of more efficient resource allocation, would mark the beginning of a more laissez-faire approach to marijuana cultivation and use. The Justice Department's latest memo has shattered those hopes and articulated a continuation of Bush-era federal policy toward medical marijuana.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition's Tom Angell said:

"Previously, the Obama administration wanted the public to believe they were going to respect how states decided to handle medical marijuana legalization and regulation. But a new memo released to the public today confirms that this president is simply continuing the harassment and interference policies of the Bush administration when it comes to actually providing patients with their doctor-recommended medicine."

As with so many other issues from war to Wall Street, it would appear that instead of the change voters had expected, the Obama Administration is continuing to govern as the Bush Administration before it. While signaling an attitude somewhat contrary to that expressed in the Ogden Memo, the Justice Department's most recent drug memo takes pains to emphasize continuity and consistency with the 2009 memo, which it says never stated that commercial growing operations would avoid federal scrunity and prosecution:

"The Department's view of the efficient use of limited federal resources as articulated in the Ogden Memorandum has not changed. There has, however, been an increase in the scope of commercial cultivation, sale, distribution and use of marijuana for purported medical purposes. For example, within the past 12 months, several jurisdictions have considered or enacted legislation to authorize multiple large-scale, privately-operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers. Some of these planned facilities have revenue projections of millions of dollars based on the planned cultivation of tens of thousands of cannabis plants.

The Ogden Memorandum was never intended to shield such activities from federal enforcement action and prosecution, even where those activities purport to comply with state law. 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. Consistent with resource constraints and the discretion you may exercise in your district, such persons 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 with respect to such conduct, including enforcement of the CSA."

There is, however, a fundamental contradiction between the two policy memos. Taken together, the Obama Administration is effectively saying: 'We won't interfere with patients' use of doctor-prescribed marijuana, we're just not going to let anybody cultivate it for them or sell it to them.' Along with the White House's continued wars in the Middle East, its continuation of the War on Drugs is just one more reason why the President's reelection campaign should seemingly adopt the motto: Dare to Hope. Prepare to be Disappointed.

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