Background: During his presidential election campaign, Senator Obama pledged that he was “not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.” After Obama was elected President, his Administration made repeated statements upholding his campaign pledge, including the statement by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that his Justice Department would only “go after those people who violate both federal and state law.” Then, in October 2009, the Justice Department issued a memorandum to all U.S. Attorneys in medical cannabis states vowing to “not focus federal resources…on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

Findings: Although patient advocates hailed Obama’s Justice Department memo as a major victory against the unnecessary and harmful enforcement efforts of the federal government, the memo was not an answer to all of the issues facing the patient community. While the non-binding memo has resulted in far fewer raids than under the G.W. Bush Administration, federal raids have not stopped and too much enforcement discretion is left up to current and future Administration officials. There are also other issues beyond just enforcement that face medical cannabis patients in the U.S. For example, investigations into the therapeutic benefits of cannabis are routinely stifled by Byzantine approval processes, and despite the popular support for medical cannabis laws, the Obama Administration has failed to establish a comprehensive and public health approach to this issue.

Position: ASA is currently pursuing clarification on the Obama Administration’s policy with regard to medical cannabis, both legislatively and directly through Administration officials. In addition, ASA is working with Administration officials to adopt a set of recommendations that include an end to federal enforcement in medical cannabis states, expanded research, and a sensible, comprehensive federal policy.