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Attorney General Announces Formal Medical Marijuana Guidelines

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday formal guidelines for federal prosecutors in states that have enacted laws authorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The guidelines make clear that the focus of federal resources should not be on individuals whose actions are in compliance with existing state laws, while underscoring that the Department will continue to prosecute people whose claims of compliance with state and local law conceal operations inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of those laws.

"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, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal," Holder said. "This balanced policy formalizes a sensible approach that the Department has been following since January: effectively focus our resources on serious drug traffickers while taking into account state and local laws."

The guidelines set forth examples of conduct that would show when individuals are not in clear and unambiguous compliance with applicable state law and may indicate illegal drug trafficking activity of potential federal interest, including unlawful use of firearms, violence, sales to minors, money laundering, amounts of marijuana inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law, marketing or excessive financial gains similarly inconsistent with state or local law, illegal possession or sale of other controlled substances, and ties to criminal enterprises.

In 1996, California became the first state to make it legal to sell marijuana for medicinal purposes provided a doctors’ prescription was obtained. Other states to legalize medicinal marijuana are Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Advocates of medical marijuana claim when used medicinally, marijuana reduces chronic pain, nausea and additional symptoms associated with cancer and other serious illnesses.

The Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project (AMMPP), which is sponsoring a medical marijuana initiative that will appear on the ballot in Arizona in November 2010, cheered the Justice Department's action.

"For patients in Arizona suffering because of a variety of serious medical conditions, this is wonderful news," said Andrew Myers, director of AMMPP. "Our initiative promises to provide these patients with safe and reliable access to the medicine they need under state law. It is a tremendous boost to our efforts to have the federal government acknowledge a year before the vote that it will not interfere with this law once it is enacted. This is truly a day to celebrate, both in Arizona and in the 13 other states where medical marijuana is already permitted under state law."