Reaction to Federal Marijuana Policy Announcement

Today the U.S. Department of Justice finally announced the Obama administration’s response to the historic marijuana legalization measures that were approved by voters in Colorado and Washington State in November. The following is a statement from Marijuana Majority’s Tom Angell:

“It’s nice to hear that the Obama administration doesn’t at this point intend to file a lawsuit to overturn the will of the voters in states that have opted to modernize their marijuana policies, but it remains to be seen how individual U.S. attorneys will interpret the new guidance and whether they will continue their efforts to close down marijuana businesses that are operating in accordance with state law.

“It’s significant that U.S. attorneys will no longer be able to use the size or profitability of a legal marijuana business to determine whether or not it should be a target for prosecution, but the guidelines seem to leave some leeway for the feds to continue making it hard for state-legal marijuana providers to do business.

“The administration’s statement that it doesn’t think busting individual users should be a priority remains meaningless, as it has never been a federal focus to go after people just for using small amounts of marijuana. The real question is whether the president will call off his federal agencies that have been on the attack and finally let legal marijuana businesses operate without harassment, or if he wants the DEA and prosecutors to keep intervening as they have throughout his presidency and thus continue forcing users to buy marijuana on the illegal market where much of the profits go to violent drug cartels and gangs.

“In all, today’s announcement represents a step in a right direction and a recognition by the administration that the politics of marijuana are rapidly shifting in favor of those who support legalization. However, my optimism is tempered by the fact that despite the Justice Department’s 2009 announcement that it shouldn’t be a priority to bust medical marijuana providers operating in accordance with state law, this administration went on to close down more state-legal marijuana businesses in one term than the Bush administration did in two terms.

“Polls from Pew and Gallup show that a supermajority of Americans wants the president to follow through on his 2008 pledges to respect marijuana laws, and that’s what advocates will continue pressing him to do.”

 

Reaction to Attorney General Eric Holder’s Drug Reform Proposals

Today, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder backed proposals to reduce America’s reliance on incarceration. In a speech to the American Bar Association, Holder endorsed Congressional legislation that would scale back mandatory minimum sentences, and sent guidance to U.S. attorneys directing them to refrain from subjecting people accused of low-level drug offenses to the most severe sentences.

The following is a statement from Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell:

“The attorney general’s remarks represent a good first step toward scaling back the failed ‘war on drugs.’ These proposals will allow some people charged with drug offenses to have opportunities to put their lives back together sooner and will save taxpayers some money that is now being wasted putting human beings in cages for no good reason whatsoever. However, the criminal justice system should not just have less of a role in the effort to address the medical problem of drug abuse, it should have no role.

“The real value of these proposals will be in the implementation, which drug policy reform advocates have good reason to be wary about. For example, despite a 2009 Justice Department memo urging U.S. attorneys not to go after marijuana businesses that are legal under state law, more state-legal medical marijuana providers were shuttered by federal actions during the first term of the Obama administration than were closed during George W. Bush’s two terms. And, we’re still waiting for the administration to announce its response to the marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington, a policy that the attorney general has been saying is coming ‘relatively soon’ since December. If the administration is serious about using law enforcement resources in a smarter way, it should be a no-brainer to strongly direct federal prosecutors to respect the majority of voters by allowing these groundbreaking state laws to be implemented without interference.

“Clearly, drug policy reformers have a lot of work ahead of us to make sure that the administration’s deeds match its words, but today’s remarks by the attorney general give us a lot to work with.”