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Washington, D.C. -- The U.S. Department of Justice issued new guidelines on medical marijuana today to U.S. Attorneys in states that have adopted medical use laws. Advocates are hailing the new guidelines as a victory and an important step toward a comprehensive national policy on medical marijuana. While the new guidelines have yet to be put into practice, advocates hope they will allow states to implement their medical marijuana laws without interference by the federal government.
"This is a huge victory for medical marijuana patients," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, the nationwide medical marijuana advocacy organization. "This indicates that President Obama intends to keep his promise not to undermine state medical marijuana laws and represents a significant departure from the policies of the Bush Administration," continued Sherer. "We will continue to work with President Obama, the Justice Department, and the U.S. Congress to establish a comprehensive national policy, but it's good to know that in the meantime states can implement medical marijuana laws without interference from the federal government."
In June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales v. Raich that the government had the discretion to enforce federal marijuana laws even in medical marijuana states. While the Court did not invalidate the laws of California and 12 other states, all of them were under threat of interference by the federal government. In California, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was used extensively by the Bush Administration to raid medical marijuana providers. The federal government's aggressive enforcement has also had the effect of inciting rogue law enforcement to ignore state law in favor of the more stringent federal law. During the Bush Administration, more than 200 federal raids occurred in California alone.
As promising as the new guidelines appear, certain questions still remain. For instance, will U.S. Attorneys be instructed at some future point to allow defendants the use of medical evidence and state law compliance in federal criminal cases? Currently, the federal government is prosecuting more than two dozen medical marijuana cases in which defendants are prevented from using medical evidence. In addition, the new guidelines urge prosecutors to still pursue marijuana cases which involve activity that is legal under some state medical marijuana laws.
For further information:
DOJ guidelines on medical marijuana issued today: http://www.justice.gov/opa/documents/medical-marijuana.pdf
ASA's Federal Policy Recommendations: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/article.php?id=5612
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