Speaking at a press conference on Feb 25 with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, and reiterating a position made by the White House following DEA raids in California on February 4, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that ending federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries "is now American policy." The Attorney General's comments are the latest sign of a sea change in federal policy that prohibits the use of medical cannabis in the thirteen states that have enacted such laws.
U.S. TO YIELD MARIJUANA JURISDICTION TO STATES
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is sending strong signals that
President Obama - who as a candidate said states should be allowed to
make their own rules on medical marijuana - will end raids on pot
dispensaries in California.
Asked at a Washington news conference Wednesday about Drug
Enforcement Administration raids in California since Obama took
office last month, Holder said the administration has changed its policy.
"What the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to
know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing here in law
enforcement," he said. "What he said during the campaign is now
Bill Piper, national affairs director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a
marijuana advocacy group, said the statement is encouraging.
"I think it definitely signals that Obama is moving in a new
direction, that it means what he said on the campaign trail that
marijuana should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal
justice issue," he said.
Piper said Obama has also indicated he will drop the federal
government's long-standing opposition to health officials'
needle-exchange programs for drug users.
During one campaign appearance, Obama recalled that his mother had
died of cancer and said he saw no difference between
doctor-prescribed morphine and marijuana as pain relievers. He told
an interviewer in March that it was "entirely appropriate" for a
state to legalize the medical use of marijuana "with the same
controls as other drugs prescribed by doctors."
After the federal Drug Enforcement Agency raided a marijuana
dispensary at South Lake Tahoe on Jan. 22, two days after Obama's
inauguration, and four others in the Los Angeles area on Feb. 2,
White House spokesman Nick Schapiro responded to advocacy groups'
protests by noting that Obama had not yet appointed his drug policy team.
"The president believes that federal resources should not be used to
circumvent state laws" and expects his appointees to follow that
policy, Schapiro said.
The federal government has fought state medicinal pot laws since
Californians voted in 1996 to repeal criminal penalties for medical
use of marijuana.
President Bill Clinton's administration won a Supreme Court case,
originating in Oakland, that allowed federal authorities to shut down
nonprofit organizations that supplied medical marijuana to their
members. Clinton's Justice Department was thwarted by federal courts
in an attempt to punish California doctors who recommended marijuana to
President George W. Bush's administration went further, raiding
medical marijuana growers and clinics, prosecuting suppliers under
federal drug laws after winning another Supreme Court case and
pressuring commercial property owners to evict marijuana dispensaries
by threatening legal action.
The Bush administration also blocked a University of Massachusetts
researcher's attempt to grow marijuana for studies of its medical
properties. Piper, of the Drug Policy Alliance, said he hopes Obama
will reverse that position.
"If you removed the obstacles to research," he said, "in 10 to 15
years, marijuana will be available in pharmacies."