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October 20th, 2009
06:00 AM ET

U.S. attorneys told to go after pot traffickers, not patients

By Terry Frieden
CNN Justice Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Justice Department has provided federal prosecutors "clarification and guidance" urging them to go after drug traffickers, but not patients and caregivers, in the 14 states that have medical marijuana laws.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Signs beckon patients into a medical marijuana clinic in Los Angeles, California."]

A memo sent to U.S. attorneys said that in carrying out Justice pronouncements made earlier this year indicating a policy shift to end prosecutions against users, authorities should continue to pursue drug traffickers.

"It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "But we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal," Holder added.

The memo from Deputy Attorney General David Ogden was sent to U.S. attorneys in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Maryland, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

The issue is particularly significant in California, where there has been uncertainty about the government's approach to raiding marijuana dispensaries, which are increasing and thriving.

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Filed under: Drugs
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Rick Meehan

    Sorry Wayne (Harrison) on your comment above, but you are flat out wrong about it being rather sad if Fox was no more. Someone PLEASE tie Bill O'stiffly down to a Fox chair and blow some marijuana smoke down his blow hole! I have never seen such an uptight man in my whole life and might suggest someone look into his background to find out if some 'holy-man' might have chased him around as a little boy in robes. All for one and one for all (With Robin Hood as our beloved). Now lets get off what a few fringe right-wingers wish for and back to what the majority want, legalize the herb and push booze, perscription pills and body numbing real "drugs" into hell where they belong!!!!! Show some guts White House.

    October 21, 2009 at 10:23 am |
  2. Wayne Harrison

    We have government controlled General Motors, Housing, Banking, and soon medical sectors of our economy, why would we not want government mandated media? Get rid of Fox, conservative talk radio and people will finally have the choice they deserve – None. Welcome to the rise of the fourth Reich.

    October 21, 2009 at 8:39 am |
  3. Chris in CO

    While I applaud this decision on the face of it, this decision shows some hypocrisy on the part of the Obama administration. In regards to DOMA and Don't Ask/Don't Tell, the Obama administration has defended the law even though they do not agree with it. Specifically with regard to DA/DT, activists have said that President Obama could issue an order for the DoD to not pursue any reports of violations of DA/DT. President Obama said that he couldn't ignore the law of the land in this matter, yet allows the DoJ to ignore federal drug laws. Not consistent at all.

    October 20, 2009 at 7:07 pm |
  4. David

    Why wait to legalize? There have been far more reports of the benifits such as health, economic and many more practical uses for the "mean green" Definitely a psycologically addictive drug, not physically. So if you have an addictive personality, you can become addicted to jellybeans! When it's all said and done it will be legal, alcohol prohibition had to come full circle before coming to freution. The initiative can't come form the White Hous either, I mean c'mon the first black president legalizing marijuana, he'll never b able to live that down, no matter how much good he does. I don't blame him but something has to be done, start in Wisconsin!!!!!

    October 20, 2009 at 10:17 am |
  5. Steve - Philadelphia

    This is a good first step towards a rational drug policy in the U.S. Given the extraordinarily benign nature of marijuana in comparison to alcohol, we should all aggressively push for full legalization. The perception that this is a drug of the young or the poor is completely out of touch with reality. I, like many of my upper middle class professional, highly successful peers, enjoy an occasional smoke as much as a glass of single malt or a fine Pinot Noir, yet most of us enjoy none of these to excess. Perhaps if we all sign a petition to have those truly dangerous drugs, alcohol and cigarette tobacco, listed as DEA Schedule 1 drugs (no redeeming value), we'll see a dramatic movement towards full legalization.

    October 20, 2009 at 10:00 am |
  6. Don - Northwood,Ohio

    Beth – Cocaine is a Schedule II drug, Look it up, You will be surprised at what is listed as Schedule II.

    October 20, 2009 at 9:33 am |
  7. Beth

    My fiance and I were raided last year for marijuana (they tried to get us with distribution and manufacturing), we ended up with parafanelia charges due to not enough evidence. Within a week of us being raided two people died from prescription drug and cocaine overdoses. They did not persue who was selling the prescription drugs and cocaine. But this is also the small county in Wisconsin that has more cops per capita then Chicago or LA.

    Just legalize it already! It could provide so much money towards OUR country! And why is marijuana a Class A drug in the same category as heroin, meth, and cocaine???

    October 20, 2009 at 9:03 am |
  8. Don - Northwood,Ohio

    There is also another problem here, The Patients that CANNOT grow need a place to obtain it, The "Collective"Owner does deserve to be able to at least recover what it costs to raise it, How can this person pay bills without accepting Cash Money, He/She cannot, Is it fair for the DEA to then STORM in just because a "Sale" took place? Hell NO, The State of California along with some others were completely stupid when it come to HOW those people could obtain it if they could Not grow themselves,

    What, Did they figure there were only a few people that use it and no distribution system was needed? Only a PINHEAD or Someone that Wanted Medical Cannabis laws to FAIL would think this!

    October 20, 2009 at 8:57 am |
  9. Mike L.

    It has been proven that Marijuana has medical use but it is still listed as one of the worst drugs on the DEA list why?? Why can I go to the corner store and buy alcohol that kills people directly and indirectly through drunk driving accidents. It's time to end this dumb law and punishing the hard working intelligent people of this country. Take the money out of drug dealers hands. Wake up!!!

    October 20, 2009 at 8:31 am |
  10. Peter Martin


    Why aren't allthe networks explaining to their viewers that the
    major forces behind the prohibition movement( partnership for a drugfree America) and almost 100% of their contributors are the the
    alcohol and tobacco lobbies? How immoral are these people & the
    policians who take their money.
    Perplexed In

    October 20, 2009 at 8:30 am |
  11. Don Draper

    It's about time someone in Washington at least tipped their hat to the reality that the war against drugs, in particular the war against marijuana is futile at best and a horrible waste of valuable investigative and law enforcement resources. If the Federal government was serious about securing the border and putting serious pressure on the Mexican drug cartels and drug traffickers, marijuana would be decriminalized. The demand for imported marijuana and criminal involvement would be virtually eliminated if domestic cultivators in the U.S. were allowed to produce the marijuana in a controlled manner without fear of prosecution.

    October 20, 2009 at 8:16 am |
  12. Gail McLean

    This is a step in the right direction but we will not be satisfied until cannabis prohibition ends entirely.
    This is the most valuable, versatile plant on earth and the laws that made this plant illegal to begin with were born of greed and racism and have been perpetuated by the government waging a terrorist war on it's own people.
    They've arrested over 20 million people since prohibition began for using a plant that is therapeautically safer for you than aspirin.
    Meanwhile, we aren't able to legally utilize the food, fuel, fiber, medicine and safer recreational opportunities this plant offers.
    This plant offers every individual the opportunity to be free from corporate bondage because it has the ability to meet every basic survival need. It's about freedom folks. The freedom to take care of myself, nothing less will do.

    October 20, 2009 at 8:09 am |
  13. Ogi Yoga

    Marijuana is as American as Apple Pie. Create Jobs, end crime, raise Tax revenue... Go States rights Medical!

    October 20, 2009 at 8:06 am |
  14. Salem

    It is about time that the Justice department made this decision. Just before Sept. 11th 2001 the Justice department had many resources dedicated to raiding medical marijuana clinics, when they could have been pursuing terrorists. The people of the states have spoken, Marijuana is a natural herb that has many beneficial qualities. If you doubt this, you have never met a cancer, HIV, etc patient who benefits from the drug. Make no mistake if pharmaceutical companies could market marijuana they would have, however they fight it as much as possible (partnership for a drug free America). History seems to be lost on the general population when it comes to this mild drug. Marijuana is illegal for racist reasons (against migrant farmers), Harry J. Anslinger demonized the drug with propaganda to sway public opinion with false claims of a “murderous drug” and other outrageous statements (reefer madness).
    It is now time to look at regulating and taxing Marijuana, it has none of the laundry list of side effects that a typical drug you see commercials for on CNN has. It could not only defund criminals by taking much of their revenue, it could also open the doors for a green industry with non-THC hemp (clothing, food, bio-fuel, etc). Look at history and wake up!

    October 20, 2009 at 8:06 am |
  15. jason

    This is a good thing, now they need make it legal, tax it and have some sort of control over it. Fact is its here been here since the dawn of time and will always be here and as long as its illegal we are going to keep making the cartels rich and fuel more violence. Prohibition does not work. I used to be against legalization of marijuana for any use, but over the last year I have seen proven facts that marijuana prohibition was based on lies and that this drug is one of the least harmful drugs out there.Tobacco kills 400,000 per yr, alcohol 150,000, marijuana 0 somthing is wrong here.I understand that we dont want our kids using drugs but they can get marijuana easier than alcohol, drug dealers dont check id's

    October 20, 2009 at 8:00 am |
  16. Don - Northwood,Ohio

    #1.Maryland is NOT legal for medical use, Affirmative defense is NOT legalization, Close but NO Cigar!! If you can afford to fight it, You still end up with a fine and attorney`s fees "if you win", So QUIT reporting that Maryland is a Medical State!!
    #2. Nice start but here is the problem!
    “The guidelines to be issued to federal prosecutors Monday will suggest that it’s not a good use of time to go after users and distributors of medical marijuana in the 14 states that allow such usage”.( NO Actually 13)

    That is ALL it is, A ”Suggestion” "Policy Change" NOT LAW, Which opens the door to change policy at a moment`s notice and does NOTHING to ensure a Patient or Caregiver will Not be arrested & prosecuted at the whim of an Overzealous Prosecutor or being Harassed by local law enforcement.

    HB 2835 Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act 2009 would be the Official Seal of Approval and provide the “Proper” Protection the Medical Patients & Caregivers Need.
    Obama, Push this bill and Do it right, Do NOT make promises that can very easily be broken.
    Memo`s to other agency’s are NOT law, Federal Law is why most states will not even consider passing Medical use Laws as long as it is still listed a schedule I substance.

    October 20, 2009 at 7:59 am |
  17. Truth Out Loud

    Please disregard my last post – and delete it. I meant to send this one:

    Please discuss this with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (wiki / and Barry Cooper (lecturer – wiki). Also, maybe Marijuana Policy Project and NORML.

    Any legitimate academic will tell you that decriminalization and even legalization is the best way forward for everyone. Unlike alcohol, nobody dies from consuming pot – they die from buying it from criminals instead of regulated and taxed professionals (as happened to a friend of mine). Industrial Hemp and Recreational Marijuana are a huge tax stream and job market waiting to be tapped. The War On Drugs will never stop any 12 year old from smoking pot or doing any other drug they want – and it never has. Education is the answer to "saying no" and/or teaching "everything in moderation". The War On Drugs costs billions every year in lack of tax income, unnecessary tax spending, officer and citizen lives, and unnecessary jailing costs ... and it creates career criminals because nobody wants to hire them after they have been jailed except criminals. The War On Drugs is KNUCKLE DRAGGING STUPID.

    October 20, 2009 at 7:58 am |
  18. kathi bogert

    I think if our nation is to have a legal vice, marijuanna is the lesser of two evil. It is psychologically addictive, yes. Alcohol however is physically addictive as well. And when was the last time you saw a bar fight with a pot smopker? They tend to be more interested in their chiki-cheese fries!

    October 20, 2009 at 7:53 am |
  19. Lee Anne

    Major source of money for the Mexican Drug Cartels? Why not legalize marijuana and turn it into jobs for farmers and revenue for the States and Federal Government? Wouldn't that help shut down the cartels and voilence along the border and in the states? The people who chase cartels could then find the people who are here illeagally on expired visas. I don't think we have figured that out yet... But all this just makes to much sense for the government to do.

    October 20, 2009 at 7:52 am |
  20. Robert

    I think if they punish these people they should punish every doctor who writes a prescription for oxycontin or these ultra pain meds out there to get in trouble for creating soo many addicts out there. These freely given away pills are killing america...

    October 20, 2009 at 7:47 am |
  21. Deb

    They should legalize it already! Tax it we can sure use the money and put the Mexicans out of business. People are smoking it anyway, we might as well make some tax dollars off of it.

    October 20, 2009 at 7:41 am |