U.S. Attorney: AZ Medical Pot Law No Shield From Prosecution


Photo: AZ Capitol Times
U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke: “Even clear and unambiguous compliance with (Arizona Medical Marijuana Act) does not render possession or distribution lawful”

‚ÄčArizona’s top federal prosecutor joined the growing chorus of U.S. Attorneys across the country on Monday, saying that the state’s medical marijuana law doesn’t protect patients, growers or sellers from federal prosecution.

U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, in a threatening letter to Arizona’s health director, claimed his law office “will abide” by a 2009 Department of Justice memo that discourages federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers who are following state law. But he said anyone who possesses or distributes marijuana is still violating federal law, reports Mary K. Reinhart at The Arizona Republic.
Burke’s letter follows the recent pattern of federal prosecutors sending threatening letters to state officials, including governors, attorneys general and others in medical marijuana states. The threats have been underlined by recent federal raids of medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington, Montana and California.

Washington Governor Christine Gregoire on Friday vetoed most of a bill that would have legalized dispensaries, provided arrest protection to patients, and regulated the medical marijuana industry there, which has been operating largely underground since voters legalized medicinal cannabis in 1998.
Federal prosecutors in Washington also followed through on a threat to crack down on dispensaries and landlords who lease their property to the pot shops.
Gregoire claimed she doesn’t want to put state employees at risk of federal prosecution. So far, since the beginning of medical marijuana when California voters approved it in 1996, no state employee has ever been prosecuted by the federal government for doing their job.
In his two-page threatening letter, Burke said “individuals and organizations — including property owners, landlords and financiers” could be prosecuted under federal drug-trafficking laws. But he made no mention of state employees, which have been processing ID cards for hundreds of medical marijuana patients and are preparing to license dispensaries and cultivation sites this summer.
“The public should understand, however, that even clear and unambiguous compliance with (Arizona Medical Marijuana Act) does not render possession or distribution of marijuana lawful under federal statute,” Burke wrote.
Burke also claimed Arizona’s medical marijuana law, approved by voters last November, “does not apply” on the state’s Indian reservations.