Pubdate: Fri, 20 Mar 2009
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Daniel Nasaw
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


In a further sign that the Obama administration is shifting away from 
the "war on drugs" policies of its predecessor, the country's top law 
enforcement official has announced that the federal government will 
end raids on groups that supply medical marijuana.

Eric Holder, the attorney general, said federal agencies would now 
concentrate their efforts on traffickers who pass themselves as 
medical dispensaries and "use medical marijuana laws as a shield".

He said: "Given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be 
on [those] growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana, and 
doing so in a way that's inconsistent with federal and state law."

Thirteen states have laws permitting medicinal use of marijuana, but 
under George Bush federal law enforcement officials ignored state 
laws, raiding dispensaries and threatening to penalise doctors who 
prescribed it.

Medical marijuana providers yesterday welcomed the move. Kevin Reed, 
president of the Green Cross, a San Francisco non-profit, medical 
marijuana service with more than 2,000 patients, said: "It's 
definitely a huge relief off our shoulders, [from] thinking that 
someone might bust down our doors and take us to prison for helping 
people. It gives us the opportunity to come out of the closet a 
little more and ... to help people."

Kirk Manter, of the Rhode Island Compassion Club, an organisation 
which provides "whatever a patient may need", said: "I feel it will 
make the state legislature much more willing to allow for collective 
cultivation sites. It allows much more room for dialogue on the state level."

Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a 
research group that supports decriminalising the drug, said Obama's 
policy shift indicated "the small beginnings of rationality". He 
added: "What we've seen is the change from eight years of policy on 
marijuana being run by pitchfork-wielding fanatics, to people who are 
willing to at least let facts and science and commonsense play a role."

Despite the change in attitude at the White House, medical marijuana 
remains illegal under federal law. The attorney general said his 
comments were consistent with Obama's words during his presidential 
campaign when he said his mother had died of cancer and that he saw 
no difference between prescribed morphine and marijuana used to relieve pain.

There is growing public support in the US for liberalisation of 
marijuana laws. Opinion polls show a majority of Americans backing 
legal medical marijuana. In Massachusetts, voters in November 
decriminalised possession of an ounce or less of the drug, and a 
California lawmaker recently proposed outright legalisation.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom