Obama Not Going “To Turn The Other Way” Regarding Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Washington, DC: President Barack Obama is defending his administration’s recent crackdown upon medicinal cannabis providers in states that allow for its use in a just-published Rolling Stone Magazine interview.

In recent months, federal justice officials have executed raids on dozens of medical marijuana providers and related businesses, including Oaksterdam University in Oakland, in various states. In some cases, federal authorities have even targeted establishments that were operating in accordance with a state license.

The Justice Department has also ordered lawmakers in various states – including Delaware, Rhode Island, and Washington – to suspend plans to authorize cannabis providers under state law. To date, three states – Colorado, Maine, and New Mexico – have issued licenses to allow for the state-sanctioned production and distribution of cannabis. Similar licensing legislation approved in Arizona, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington, DC has yet to be implemented by local lawmakers.

Stated Obama in Rolling Stone: "What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, ‘Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.’"

He added: "The only tension that’s come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we’re telling them, ‘This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way.’ That’s not something we’re going to do."

Obama’s statements appear to contradict those he made in March 2008, as a Presidential candidate, when he pledged to cease utilizing "Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws" regarding medical cannabis.

More recently, in December, US Attorney General Eric Holder told members of Congress that the Justice Department would only target medical cannabis operators that "use marijuana in a way that’s not consistent with the state statute."

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, or Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, at (202) 483-5500.