DOJ Revises Administration’s Position Regarding State Medical Marijuana Laws

Washington, DC: The United States Department of Justice issued a memorandum to US Attorneys last week revising the administration’s position regarding the use of federal resources in states that have enacted laws allowing for the use of distribution of medical cannabis to authorized patients. It is the second such memo issued by the Obama administration.

The DOJ memo seeks to clarify the administration’s stance after US Attorneys this spring sent letters to several state lawmakers threatening to prosecute medical marijuana providers, or in some cases state employees who licensed such providers, even in instances where such conduct was in strict compliance with state law.

According to the latest memorandum, dated June 29 and signed by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, the warnings issued in the previous US Attorney letters are “entirely consistent” with DOJ policy.

The memo states, “[I]t is likely not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law.” By contrast, the DOJ notes that “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.”

To date, three states — Colorado, New Mexico, and Maine — have allowed for the operation of state-licensed medical marijuana producers and providers. Five additional states — Arizona, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont — as well as the District of Columbia have similar laws, but have either suspended or not yet implemented their medical marijuana distribution programs.

Governors Jan Brewer (Republican, Arizona), Chris Christie (Republican, New Jersey), and Lincoln Chafee (Independent, Rhode Island) — each of whom had elected to halt their state’s medical marijuana dispensary programs in recent months — have yet to issue public statements in response to the DOJ memo.

As a candidate, President Obama had pledged that he would “not … be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this (the medical marijuana) issue.”

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500, or Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: Full text of the Cole memorandum is available online at: