Another tiny step forward.
A 3-page memo spelling out the policy is expected to be sent Monday to federal prosecutors in the 14 states, and also to top officials at the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The memo, the officials said, emphasizes that prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, and says it is not a good use of federal manpower to prosecute those who are without a doubt in compliance with state law.
It’s a positive step, and having a detailed memo is certainly better than some vague statements by the Attorney General (I’ll be interested to see exactly what it says), but based on these preliminary reports, it still amounts to little more than a well meaning, but toothless, suggestion.
You want to make a statement? Tell the DEA and federal prosecutors that medical marijuana cases are completely off-limits in medical marijuana states (strictly state jurisdiction), unless specifically invited in by the state government (and not just local law enforcement). Now that would be a good start.
Update: Glenn Greenwald briefly discusses this and other drug war trends in his post today.
Update 2: It’s interesting that the administration chose to roll this out on a Monday, and even went so far as to advance prep the AP on the story. Rather than dumping it in the trash (ie, when the White House wants to downplay a story, they release it with a bunch of other stuff on Friday afternoon to reduce the coverage), they seem to be promoting it.
This seems to be a positive development â€” perhaps recognition that not being against medical marijuana is politically savvy? Too soon to tell.
I’m also interested by the fact that all the medical marijuana advocates seem to be trumpeting this heavily as a total victory, even before the text of the memo is released. This could be good strategy, as it may help spin the rest of the media to play it that way. But it also has the potential to lead to disappointment when the next DEA medical marijuana raids happen in California following the caveats in the new guidelines (and they will).
Update 3: Full text of the memo after the jump…
Link [Thanks, Cannabis]
MEMORANDUM FOR SELECTED UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS
FROM: David W. Ogden, Deputy Attorney General
SUBJECT: Investigations and Prosecutions in States Authorizing the Medical Use of Marijuana
This memorandum provides clarification and guidance to federal prosecutors in States that have enacted laws authorizing the medical use of marijuana. These laws vary in their substantive provisions and in the extent of state regulatory oversight, both among the enacting States and among local jurisdictions within those States. Rather than developing different guidelines for every possible variant of state and local law, this memorandum provides uniform guidance to focus federal investigations and prosecutions in these States on core federal enforcement priorities.
The Department of Justice is committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in all States. Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug, and the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime and provides a significant source of revenue to large-scale criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels. One timely example underscores the importance of our efforts to prosecute significant marijuana traffickers: marijuana distribution in the United States remains the single largest source of revenue for the Mexican cartels.
The Department is also committed to making efficient and rational use of its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources. In general, United States Attorneys are vested with â€œplenary authority with regard to federal criminal mattersâ€ within their districts. USAM 9-2.001. In exercising this authority, United States Attorneys are â€œinvested by statute and delegation from the Attorney General with the broadest discretion in the exercise of such authority.â€ Id. This authority should, of course, be exercised consistent with Department priorities and guidance.
The prosecution of significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, and the disruption of illegal drug manufacturing and trafficking networks continues to be a core priority in the Departmentâ€™s efforts against narcotics and dangerous drugs, and the Departmentâ€™s investigative and prosecutorial resources should be directed towards these objectives. As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana. For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources. On the other hand, prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority of the Department. To be sure, claims of compliance with state or local law may mask operations inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of those laws, and federal law enforcement should not be deterred by such assertions when otherwise pursuing the Departmentâ€™s core enforcement priorities.
Typically, when any of the following characteristics is present, the conduct will not be in clear and unambiguous compliance with applicable state law and may indicate illegal drug trafficking activity of potential federal interest:
- unlawful possession or unlawful use of firearms;
- sales to minors;
- financial and marketing activities inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of state law, including evidence of money laundering activity and/or financial gains or excessive amounts of cash inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law;
- amounts of marijuana inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law;
- illegal possession or sale of other controlled substances; or
- ties to other criminal enterprises.
Of course, no State can authorize violations of federal law, and the list of factors above is not intended to describe exhaustively when a federal prosecution may be warranted. Accordingly, in prosecutions under the Controlled Substances Act, federal prosecutors are not expected to charge, prove, or otherwise establish any state law violations. Indeed, this memorandum does not alter in any way the Departmentâ€™s authority to enforce federal law, including laws prohibiting the manufacture, production, distribution, possession, or use of marijuana on federal property. This guidance regarding resource allocation does not â€œlegalizeâ€ marijuana or provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law, nor is it intended to create any privileges, benefits, or rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable by any individual, party or witness in any administrative, civil, or criminal matter. Nor does clear and unambiguous compliance with state law or the absence of one or all of the above factors create a legal defense to a violation of the Controlled Substances Act. Rather, this memorandum is intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion.
Finally, nothing herein precludes investigation or prosecution where there is a reasonable basis to believe that compliance with state law is being invoked as a pretext for the production or distribution of marijuana for purposes not authorized by state law. Nor does this guidance preclude investigation or prosecution, even when there is clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law, in particular circumstances where investigation or prosecution otherwise serves important federal interests.
Your offices should continue to review marijuana cases for prosecution on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the guidance on resource allocation and federal priorities set forth herein, the consideration of requests for federal assistance from state and local law enforcement authorities, and the Principles of Federal Prosecution.
cc: All United States Attorneys
Lanny A. Breuer
Assistant Attorney General Criminal Division
B. Todd Jones
United States Attorney
District of Minnesota
Chair, Attorney Generalâ€™s Advisory Committee
Michele M. Leonhart
Drug Enforcement Administration
H. Marshall Jarrett
Executive Office for United States Attorneys
Kevin L. Perkins
Criminal Investigative Division
Federal Bureau of Investigation