The Obama administration has taken its strongest stance yet in declaring that medical-marijuana dispensaries are legitimate targets of prosecution.
In a memo written this week, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole wrote that people, “who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities” are in violation of federal law regardless of their state laws.
“Such persons are subject to federal enforcement action, including potential prosecution,” Cole wrote.
The memo comes nearly two years after a memo by another Justice Department official was seen as giving the green light for medical-marijuana businesses to open. That memo, from then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, declared that federal law-enforcement officials shouldn’t expend resources going after people who are in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with their state’s medical-marijuana laws.
Since then, federal officials have periodically re-asserted their authority to prosecute federal crimes, including marijuana distribution, regardless of state law. But Cole’s memo is the clearest statement to date that the Obama Administration does not believe dispensaries should have legal shelter.
The memo clarifies that Ogden was referring to “individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses,” not to dispensaries or other commercial marijuana businesses.
“The Department’s view of the efficient use of limited federal resources as articulated in the Ogden Memorandum has not changed,” Cole wrote. “There has, however, been an increase in the scope of commercial cultivation, sale, distribution and use of marijuana for purported medical purposes.”
Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh forwarded Cole’s memo to state Attorney General John Suthers this morning, on the same day that sweeping new rules for the state’s medical-marijuana industry go into effect. After two legislative sessions of feverish work, Colorado now has the nation’s most comprehensive system for creating and regulating cannabis businesses.
Meanwhile Friday, medical-marijuana advocates announced they have filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the new rules for dispensaries. The advocates argue the rules restrict patient rights and violate the state constitution’s medical-marijuana provisions.