Pubdate: Sun, 16 Dec 2012
Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Copyright: 2012 Associated Press
Author: Paul Elias
Page: A13


SAN FRANCISCO - President Barack Obama says he won't go after pot 
users in Colorado and Washington, two states that just legalized the 
drug for recreational use. But advocates argue the president said the 
same thing about medical marijuana - and yet U.S. attorneys continue 
to force the closure of dispensaries across the U.S.

Obama's statement Friday provided little clarity in a world where 
marijuana is inching ever so carefully toward legitimacy.

That conflict is perhaps the greatest in California, where the 
state's four U.S. Attorneys criminally prosecuted large growers and 
launched a coordinated crackdown on the state's medical marijuana 
industry last year by threatening landlords with property forfeiture 
actions. Hundreds of pot shops went out of business.

Steve DeAngelo, executive director of an Oakland, Calif., dispensary 
that claims to be the nation's largest, called for a federal policy 
that treats recreational and medical uses of the drug equally.

"If we're going to recognize the rights of recreational users, then 
we should certainly protect the rights of medical cannabis patients 
who legally access the medicine their doctors have recommended," he said.

The government is planning to soon release policies for dealing with 
marijuana in Colorado and Washington, where federal law still 
prohibits pot, as elsewhere in the country.

"It would be nice to get something concrete to follow," said William 
Osterhoudt, a San Francisco criminal defense attorney representing 
government officials in Mendocino County who recently received a 
demand from federal investigators for detailed information about a 
local system for licensing growers of medical marijuana.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said he was frustrated by Obama's comments 
because the federal government continues to shutter dispensaries in 
states with medical marijuana laws, including California.

"A good step here would be to stop raiding those legal dispensaries 
who are doing what they are allowed to do by law," said the San 
Francisco Democrat. "There's a feeling that the federal government 
has gone rogue on hundreds of legal, transparent medical marijuana 
dispensaries, so there's this feeling of them being in limbo. And it 
puts the patients, the businesses and the advocates in a very untenable place."

Some advocates said the statement showed the president's willingness 
to allow residents of states with marijuana laws to use the drug 
without fear of federal prosecution.

"It's a tremendous step forward," said Joe Elford, general counsel 
for Americans for Safe Access. "It suggests the feds are taking 
seriously enough the idea that there should be a carve-out for states 
with marijuana laws."

Obama's statements on recreational use mirror the federal policy 
toward states that allow marijuana use for medical purposes.

"We are not focusing on backyard grows with small amounts of 
marijuana for use by seriously ill people," said Lauren Horwood, a 
spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner in Sacramento. "We are 
targeting money-making commercial growers and distributors who use 
the trappings of state law as cover, but they are actually abusing state law."

Alison Holcomb, who led the legalization drive in Washington state, 
said she doesn't expect Obama's comment to prompt the federal 
government to treat recreational marijuana and medical marijuana differently.

"At this point, what the president is looking at is a response to 
marijuana in general. The federal government has never recognized the 
difference between medical and non-medical marijuana," she said. "I 
don't think this is the time he'd carve out separate policies. I 
think he's looking for a more comprehensive response."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom