Pubdate: Sat, 07 Sep 2013
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal (NV)
Copyright: 2013 Los Angeles Times
Author: Rob Kampia
Note: Rob Kampia is executive director of the Marijuana Policy 
Project in Washington, which led the campaign that legalized 
marijuana in Colorado. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.


The Justice Department made headlines last week when it announced a 
new federal policy on marijuana. It should come as welcome news to 
the majority of Americans who, according to an April Pew Research 
Center poll, believe marijuana should be made legal for adults.

The policy memo issued to U.S. attorneys across the nation says that 
the federal government will not interfere with state laws allowing 
the medical or adult use of marijuana, as long as those states follow 
certain guidelines in their regulation of the product. This means 
that people in Colorado and Washington state, where voters passed 
such laws in November, will be able to start selling marijuana to 
people 21 and older next year.

The feds' policy doesn't change marijuana's classification as an 
illegal drug, but marijuana policy reformers agree with the 
principles in it. The Justice Department will now concern itself with 
certain violations of state laws - eight specific priorities for 
federal prosecution. Among them are sales to minors and the movement 
of marijuana across state lines.

But actions speak louder than words. Given President Barack Obama's 
flipflops on marijuana policy, people have reason to be skeptical.

For example, Obama informed me at a fundraising reception in 2004 
that he thought medical marijuana should be legal; and in 2008, 
candidate Obama told an Oregon newspaper that if elected president, 
he would end the Drug Enforcement Administration's raids on medical 
marijuana clinics. Attorney General Eric Holder said the same thing 
on national television in 2009, and the deputy attorney general 
issued a memo to that effect later that year.

But in 2011, the house of cards fell. The new deputy attorney 
general, James Cole, issued a watered-down memo stating that the 
federal government would not go after individual marijuana users but 
that marijuana businesses were legitimate targets for prosecution.

The Cole memo was the equivalent of no policy at all, since the 
federal government goes after very few individual marijuana users. In 
2012, it sentenced only 83 marijuana-possession offenders to 
probation or prison, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. 
Meanwhile, the DEA raided more medical marijuana providers during 
Obama's first term in office than it did during the eight years under 
President George W. Bush.

So what can we learn from the Obama administration's words and actions?

The key lesson is to write state-level marijuana laws correctly. 
There have been hundreds of outrageous DEA raids on medical marijuana 
clinics in California, Montana and Washington, but these three 
states' laws don't explicitly authorize the clinics in the first 
place. (These states simply authorize patients and caregivers to grow 
their own.)

In contrast, there have been zero DEA raids on clinics in Arizona, 
Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont. In 
these states, plus the District of Columbia, there has been a clear 
licensing process for medical marijuana businesses.

While drafting the successful 2012 Colorado ballot initiative, we 
intentionally modeled the system of adult marijuana stores on the 
state's existing system of medical marijuana stores. Given the Obama 
administration's tacit acceptance of the latter, it is fair to expect 
it will be accepting of the former.

The Justice Department's announcement comes at a time when states are 
increasingly rejecting federal law, which classifies marijuana more 
restrictively than cocaine, morphine and methamphetamine.

Since July, New Hampshire and Illinois enacted laws that made them 
the 19th and the 20th states (plus D.C.) to legalize medical 
marijuana. And since June, Nevada and Oregon have legalized the sale 
of medical marijuana through stores, an expansion of previous laws 
allowing patients and caregivers to grow their own.

The Justice Department announcement is also good news for people who 
don't necessarily support marijuana legalization but support reining 
in the federal government. According to a Gallup survey released in 
December, 64 percent of respondents said that the federal government 
should not interfere in the implementation of state measures that 
make marijuana legal for adults. It appears they got their wish.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom