Congressmen Demand That DOJ Stop Prosecuting Medical Marijuana Cases

By Matt Ferner The Huffington Post

A pair of lawmakers behind a historic congressional amendment protecting medical marijuana operations from federal crackdown issued a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday demanding the Department of Justice stop prosecuting cases against medical marijuana patients and providers in states where the substance has been legalized.

"We respectfully insist that you bring your Department back into compliance with federal law by ceasing marijuana prosecutions and forfeiture actions against those acting in accordance with state medical marijuana laws," Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Sam Farr (D-Calif.), the co-sponsors of the recently passed amendment, wrote.

The letter is in direct response to comments made last week to the Los Angeles Times by DOJ spokesman Patrick Rodenbush, who said the DOJ believes the amendment -- tucked into the $1.1 trillion federal spending bill signed by President Barack Obama in December -- only stops the department from "impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws" but doesn't stop the DOJ from prosecuting "private individuals or private entities who are violating the Controlled Substances Act."

The congressmen told HuffPost last week that the DOJ's interpretation of the amendment was "emphatically wrong," sentiments they repeated in their letter to Holder.

"Rest assured," the congressmen write in the letter, "the purpose of our amendment was to prevent the Department from wasting its limited law enforcement resources on prosecutions and asset forfeiture actions against medical marijuana patients and providers, including businesses that operate legally under state law."

The lawmakers cite ongoing federal asset forfeiture actions against multiple dispensaries in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as a recent federal case against an entire family of medical marijuana patients in Washington state who were charged with multiple marijuana offenses for growing the plant for what they say was their personal use.

Under the Obama administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and several U.S. attorneys have raided hundreds of marijuana dispensaries and sent people to prison, even though they complied with state laws. According to a 2013 report released by advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, the Obama administration has spent nearly $80 million each year -- more than $200,000 per day -- cracking down on medical marijuana.

And while the federal government's crackdown on medical marijuana has slowed, it continues to ban the plant, classifying it among the most "dangerous" substances, alongside heroin and LSD, with "no currently accepted medical use."

Multiple states have chosen to split from the federal government's position and forge their own policies regarding marijuana. To date, 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and an additional 12 have legalized limited medical use of non-psychoactive cannabis extracts, which are often used to treat children with severe epilepsy. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana.