The U.S. Justice Department has announced that medical marijuana dispensaries and licensed growers located in states with medical marijuana laws are not immune from prosecution for violation of federal drug and money-laundering laws. Currently the medical use of marijuana is legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia, USA Today reports.
According to the article, Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote a policy memo to federal prosecutors that states, “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.”
The Justice Department memo follows recent warning letters from the federal government to officials in several states including Washington, California, Colorado, Montana and Rhode Island about medical marijuana laws. The warning letters have prompted several states to start reevaluating their laws. The recent letters from U.S. attorneys indicate that people involved in the growing, dispensing and regulating of medical marijuana have the potential to be prosecuted—even if they are following state laws.
In 2009, the Justice Department said that prosecutors should not focus their investigations on patients and caregivers who complied with state medical marijuana laws, the newspaper states. Cole’s memo says that has not changed. A Justice Department spokesperson said the memo is a clarification of existing policy, rather than a new policy.
In a blog post about the Justice Department memo, the Office of National Drug Control Policy wrote, “Research shows that marijuana use in its raw form is harmful and its average potency has tripled in the past 20 years. Studies also show teens are using the drug at earlier ages and the earlier a person begins to use drugs, the more likely they are to progress to more serious abuse and addiction. According to HHS [the Department of Health and Human Services], past-year prevalence of marijuana dependence in the U.S. population is higher than that for any other illicit drug and over 150,000 people who showed up voluntarily at treatment facilities in 2009 reported marijuana as their primary substance of abuse.”