Reps. Frank, Polis To DOJ: Leave Medical Marijuana To States


Photo: Just Out
According to Reps. Jared Polis (left) and Barney Frank, the Obama Administration should lay off medical marijuana patients and providers in states where medicinal cannabis is legal.

‚ÄčTwo Democratic Congressmen want to know exactly where the federal government stands on medical cannabis. Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) are urging the Obama Administration this week to repeat earlier vows to leave the enforcement of medical marijuana laws up to the states.

The Congressmen want Attorney General Eric Holder to renew his commitment to a 2009 Department of Justice (DOJ) memorandum — known as the Ogden Memo — which said the agency wouldn’t target medical marijuana patients and providers who are in compliance with their state laws, reports Mike Lillis at The Hill.
“Recent actions by United States Attorneys across the country have prompted states to deny patients safe and reliable access to their medicine,” Frank and Polis wrote in a June 20 letter to Holder.
The letter was a result of the lawmakers’ concerns that recent communications from the DOJ and from state and local attorneys indicate the agency is backtracking on the Ogden Memo in the face of conservative criticism that the Obama Administration has somehow been “too lenient” in the “War On Drugs” by allowing sick people to use the medicine recommended by their doctors.

For instance, in a February letter to the city attorney of Oakland, California, the DOJ vowed it “will enforce the [Controlled Substances Act] vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”
Letters from U.S. Attorneys have already resulted in several states killing of delaying implementation of medical marijuana laws
One such letter resulted in the governor of Washington almost entirely vetoing a bill which would have legalized marijuana dispensaries in that state, leaving many patients without safe access. Meanwhile, states including Arizona and Rhode Island reacted to threatening letters from their U.S. Attorneys be delaying implementation of state-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries.
There are two primary reasons why the DOJ should leave the medical marijuana issue to states, according to Frank and Polis: First, the agency has limited resources, which they argue should go toward prosecuting more serious crimes (the same argument the DOJ offered in the Ogden Memo); and second, targeting the medical marijuana industry “harms the people whose major goal is to seek relief from pain wholly caused by illness.”
“There are now hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients in states where the medication is legal,” Frank and Polis wrote. “These patients will either purchase medical marijuana safely at state-regulated entities or seek it through unregulated channels: in the criminal market or by growing it themselves.”
Earlier this month, Holder announced that he’ll “soon” be “clarifying” the federal agency’s position on medical marijuana.