U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder faced tough questions about medical cannabis at a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing, thanks to ASA's work with two of the committee members. Rep. Steve Cohen (D, TN) and Rep. Jared Polis (D, CO) each pressed the AG on issues that affect medical cannabis patients.
Rep. Cohen challenged Holder on the Department of Justice's approach to rescheduling cannabis to make it available by prescription everywhere in the nation. Rep. Cohen asked Holder to respond to the recent federal sentencing order in the case of California medical cannabis provider Charles C. Lynch, quoting the judge's comments that Lynch was "caught in the middle of shifting positions" on the medical use of cannabis, and that "much of the problems could be ameliorated…by the reclassification of marijuana from Schedule I."
Holder responded without addressing the specifics of the Lynch case, but said that "so far as state medical marijuana laws are concerned, we will not use federal resources to target medical marijuana patients or their providers."
ASA had urged Rep. Cohen to ask this question because a rescheduling petition is currently waiting for review by the Department of Justice.
Rep. Polis, one of the newest members of the House Judiciary Committee and another representative with whom ASA worked closely on developing questions, then asked Holder to clarify federal medical cannabis policy. After voicing his support for the DOJ memo discouraging US Attorneys from prosecuting individuals in clear and unambiguous compliance with state law, Rep. Polis asked the attorney general to "describe the objective processes DEA and US Attorneys are using in order to make a determination about whether individuals are in 'clear and unambiguous' compliance with state law."
Holder said that he expects U.S. Attorneys to evaluate on a case-by-case basis whether individuals are acting "consistent with state law."
Rep. Polis replied that "the question of whether or not its consistent with state law be left to state enforcement actions," and pressed Holder to clarify what steps he is taking to ensure that the policy outlined in the memo is not undermined or contradicted by field agents, as happened recently in Rep. Polis' district in Colorado.
The attorney general admitted that it is his responsibility "to make sure that what we've set out as policy is being followed. To the extent DEA or US Attorneys are not following that policy, my responsibility is to make sure the policy is clear, disseminated, and that employees of the Justice Department act accordingly."
"We're grateful that medical cannabis patients now have strong allies in Congress, such as Reps. Cohen and Polis," said ASA Government Affairs Director Caren Woodson after the hearing. "ASA has worked hard to ensure that members with oversight over federal policy have all the information they need to ask the tough questions and help formulate more sensible approaches to medical cannabis."