By Julia Petersion, 10/26/2011
Lately, we've been getting calls from patients concerned about the Obama administration's recent shift on federal medical marijuana policy. Here's an overview on the issue from our perspective.
The federal government does not recognize the medicinal value of marijuana, despite medical marijuana being supported by the professional medical community and their research. In 2009, the American Medical Association urged the Obama administration to legalize medical marijuana on the federal level. In 2011, the California Medical Association also denounced the federal government’s policy on the medicine, calling for legalization.
In the past, the Obama administration has respected state medical marijuana laws. In 2009, the Obama administration vowed not to prosecute those in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. Explaining the federal policy, US Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) would only go after those who “use medical marijuana laws as a shield” for other illegal activity. He said, “given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that’s inconsistent with federal and state law.”
While maintaining that medical marijuana patients will not be prosecuted by the federal government, the Obama administration has signaled a crackdown on dispensaries and cooperatives. The “Haag Memo” from the US Attorney for Northern California reversed previous statements respecting state medical marijuana laws. The memo says that medical marijuana commercial activity is still considered by the Department of Justice to be "a violation of federal law regardless of state laws permitting such activities." In fall of 2011, four US attorneys for California announced their intentions to shut down commercial medical marijuana dispensaries.
Whether the federal government will follow through with these threats is up in the air. Many are skeptical about whether the federal government has the resources to shut down dispensaries. Law professor Alex Kreit recently said that “unless [US attorney] Laura Duffy wants to shift all of her office’s resources into prosecuting medical-marijuana cases, you won’t be able to make a huge dent in the number of dispensaries, because you’re not able to follow through with the threats...I would be surprised if this really changes the landscape.”
Bay area lawmakers have voiced their disapproval of a federal crackdown, and their support for medical marijuana patients and cooperatives. Following the threats, State Senator Mark Leno said, "I urge the federal government to stand down in its massive attack on medical marijuana dispensaries". Leno, along with State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, are considering new state legislation to legitimize California dispensaries in the face of a federal crackdown.
As advocates of good health and medical cannabis we are steadfast in our commitment to counsel and educate patients about their health and alternative treatment options. We stand with the larger medical community in urging the Obama administration and his successors to respect our professional opinions.