Fed memo has marijuana patients on 'red alert'

June 30, 2011

Teri Figueroa, North County Times

A memo issued to federal prosecutors this week has advocates of medical marijuana warning their followers to be "on red alert" out of concern that patients are not exempt from prosecution.

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole issued a two-page memo clarifying that federal prosecutors can use discretion when deciding how to dole out their resources and who to bring up on marijuana charges, but reminding them that marijuana is illegal under federal law.

Federal laws ban marijuana, but some states ---- like California ---- OK the medicinal use of the drug, with heavy restrictions.

Cole's memo notes that, over the last year, several jurisdictions have legalized "multiple large-scale, privately-operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers," some of which are expected to be worth millions of dollars.

According to the new memo, federal prosecution policy was "never intended to shield such activities from federal enforcement action and prosecution, even where those activities purport to comply with state law."

"Consistent with resource constraints and the discretion you may exercise in your district, such persons are subject to federal enforcement action, including potential prosecution," according to Cole's memo. "State laws or local ordinances are not a defense to civil or criminal enforcement of federal law with respect to such conduct, including enforcement of the CSA (the federal Controlled Substances Act.)"

For the last few years, medical marijuana advocates say they were buoyed by what appeared to be a decrease in federal prosecutions of patients following state laws. But Cole's memo may signal an unwelcome change, said Eugene Davidovich, the spokesman for the local chapter of Americans for Safe Access, a national advocacy group for medical marijuana use.

The group on Friday issued a "red alert" for fear there will be more federal prosecutions of medical marijuana patients and dispensaries.

"It's disappointing to see this," Davidovich said. "We have been so hopeful that the Obama administration would bring change."

Vista resident James Stacy, who faced a number of federal felony charges after agents raided his dispensary in a Vista shop, said Friday he found Cole's memo to be "scary."

"It says they are going to keep on arresting people," Stacy said. "They are still going to use federal resources to circumvent state law."

Federal prosecutors in San Diego did not immediately respond to a request about their interpretation of the memo.



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