Drug Law

Eric Holder Promises to Clarify US Medical Marijuana Policy

| by Reason Foundation

By Jacob Sullum

I missed this a couple of weeks ago, but NORML notes that Attorney General Eric Holder is now promising to clarify the Justice Department's position on medical marijuana.

During a June 2 visit to Providence, Holder was asked to address the contradiction between recent threats by U.S. attorneys to prosecute state-licensed dispensaries and his assurances that the federal government won't target people who supply marijuana to patients in compliance with state law. "We're going to bring clarity so that people understand what this policy means and how this policy will be implemented," he said.

I doubt it. Holder has had two and a half years to implement President Obama's promise to respect state medical marijuana laws, and instead the federal campaign against dispensaries has escalated. The October 2009 memo (PDF) urging U.S. attorneys, "as a general matter," to refrain from prosecuting patients and providers who are "in clear and unambiguous compliance" with state law was an exercise in calculated ambiguity. The Justice Department's position that prosecuting such people is perfectly consistent with that memo muddied the water even more. It seems to me that clarity is the last thing Holder wants.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has introduced a bill, H.R. 1983, that would protect people who comply with state medical marijuana laws from federal prosecution. As Mike Riggs noted in May, a companion bill introduced by Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), H.R. 1985, would also protect state-authorized dispensaries from the IRS, which puts them in a financially ruinous position by insisting that they owe federal income taxes yet may not deduct business expenses because their business is illegal.

Earlier this month, I noted that Vermont's governor, unlike Washington's, is pressing ahead with plans for state-licensed dispensaries despite the threats from federal prosecutors. Last month I noted that the forbearance Obama promised is popular, while the aggressive crackdown he has delivered is not.