Will Obama Free Imprisoned Legal Marijuana Distributors?

A memo from Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole indicates the Obama administration's Department of Justice is halting the raids and arrests on legal marijuana sales under certain conditions, and even in states such as Colorado and Washington that have legalized it for recreational use. The question is will it make a difference in the federal government’s relentless assault on commercial marijuana operations?

According to a June report from California NORML, "over 335 defendants have been charged with federal crimes related to medical marijuana in states with medical marijuana laws." Despite Barack Obama's promises of prosecutorial restraint in this area, "153 medical marijuana cases have been brought in the 4¼ years of the Obama administration, nearly as many as under the 8 years of the Bush administration (163)." In other words, Obama is averaging 36 medical marijuana prosecutions a year, compared to 20 a year under his predecessor. And although Attorney General Eric Holder has repeatedly claimed the Justice Department is not targeting suppliers who comply with state law."

The Department of Justice has targeted facilities that were in full compliance with local laws and regulations.

Legal Marijuana Enforcement Policies

The Department of Justice has stated in the memo that the size and profitability of a legal marijuana retailer or operation should not affect enforcement priorities, “...in exercising prosecutorial discretion, prosecutors should not consider the size or commercial nature of a marijuana operation alone as a proxy for assessing whether marijuana trafficking implicates the Department's enforcement priorities….”
The "enforcement priorities" are:

What about the hundreds of medical marijuana users and distributors that the Obama administration has already prosecuted and imprisoned? There are people imprisoned who did not threaten any of the “enforcement policies.”

Legal Marijuana Operations Up In Smoke

There’s no better example than medical marijuana dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky. He ran three successful dispensaries. He complied with California state law, paid his taxes, and cooperated with law enforcement, including the FBI. Nonetheless, he was raided multiple times. Sandusky continued to operate his cannabis business thinking that the Constitution gave Californians the opportunity to enact their own laws. He’s in a Texas federal prison (the California prisons are overcrowded) only months into a 10-year sentence. He did not sell to minors, run guns, cause violence, sell heroin, or fund a cartel. He's in prison because of the size and profitability of his medical marijuana operation.

Protesters gathered in downtown Berkeley, California on a May afternoon to fight federal action against one of the country’s oldest and well-respected medical marijuana dispensaries, Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), according to Berkeleyside. BPG had received a letter from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag last year, claiming its location broke state law because it was within 1,000 feet of a school. The dispensary moved its location. It was then served with a lawsuit by Haag that attempted to seize the property and close the business although it did not specify state laws that were broken. The city joined BPG’s claim to fight Haag’s forfeiture action suit, claiming that the closure of BPG will harm the city because it means the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue and will result in more illegal street sales of marijuana.The city can join BPG’s fight because the forfeiture law “allows a process for other parties who have an interest in the property to file a claim.”

In July, NBC News reported that federal agents raided several medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington — a state which decriminalized the drug last year. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Seattle office confirmed in a brief statement that "several search warrants were executed involving marijuana storefronts" in the Puget Sound region around Seattle.

It would seem the stated enemy in many of the prosecuted cases is profit. Whoever is coordinating the efforts from the federal level is clearly unsettled by the increasing acceptance of a legal and regulated marijuana trade and what it means for the drug war bureaucracy that employs them.

Whether or not Deputy Attorney General Cole’s memo will make a difference in federal action against legal marijuana business remains to be seen. The memo can be retracted or revised at any moment. Legal marijuana businesses can only hold their breath and see what happens next.

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