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The Obama Administration’s Position on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Recent statements made by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder suggest a shift in the federal government’s position on the prosecution of medical marijuana dispensaries and their operators.

At a press conference on February 25, 2009, Mr. Holder stated that law enforcement’s actions will be consistent with the President’s campaign statement that he would allow states to regulate medical marijuana without interference from the federal government. Asked about raids of California medical marijuana dispensaries that took place after President Obama’s inauguration and whether he expects such raids to continue, Mr. Holder stated: “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 continued by asserting: “What he said during the campaign is now American policy.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that two days later, on February 27, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District in California distributed a confidential memorandum to prosecutors directing them to stop filing criminal charges against medical marijuana dispensaries. This direction, however, was short-lived. The Department of Justice reported that Mr. Holder did not direct any United States Attorneys to change the current policies on prosecution of medical marijuana dispensaries.  Read the complete story here.

On March 8, 2009, during a question-and-answer session with reporters at the U.S. Department of Justice, Mr. Holder clarified slightly the current administration’s stance on the prosecution of medical marijuana distributors operating under enabling state laws. He stated that “The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law.” While Mr. Holder did not provide details as to what type of facilities or operators would face possible raids by the Drug Enforcement Administration, he did offer that law enforcement officers will target those who attempt to “use medical marijuana laws as a shield” for other illegal activity. Mr. Holder further stated that “Given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that’s inconsistent with federal and state law.”

Although the current administration may be leaning towards the position of allowing states to regulate medical marijuana and not prosecuting persons or organizations distributing medical marijuana under the auspices of state law, the administration’s policy is silent on what types of facilities dispensing medical marijuana are consistent under both California and federal laws. Moreover, it is yet to be determined by the courts whether any medical marijuana dispensaries can operate under the federal law. Meyers Nave is closely monitoring developments in the realm of medical marijuana laws, and will continue to provide pertinent updates.