Obama administration tells N.J. to keep medical marijuana program small and controlled
Susan K. Livio/Statehouse Bureau 6/30 nj.com
This whole thing is getting more and more confusing….Doesn’t the gov there have a past with the DEA? Anyone in Jersey out there?…..-UA
TRENTON — State medical marijuana programs and the people who work for them are not likely to run afoul of federal law if they keep their operations small and controlled, and don’t allow growers to create “industrial marijuana cultivation centers,” according to an eagerly-awaited letter from the Obama administration.
The letter, obtained by The Star-Ledger this evening, comes more than two months after state Attorney General Paula Dow asked the Obama administration whether New Jersey’s future medical marijuana program could violate federal law.
Gov. Chris Christie has said he would delay the program until the federal government assures him it won’t prosecute anyone employed by the program. Possession and distribution of marijuana is a federal crime, even though 16 states have passed laws making it available to select patients.
In 2009, the Obama administration issued a memo saying it would not devote law enforcement time and money to arresting and prosecuting people involved in legitimate medical marijuana activities. But subsequent memos issued in April seemed to suggest federal law enforcement was not willing to give a blanket immunity to such programs.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman sent the letter to Dow this evening. A spokesman for Dow could not immediately be reached for comment.
Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole, in a letter addressed to every state attorney general, reaffirmed “it is likely not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen … and their caregivers.”
But the large-scale growing and scaling activity seen in some states troubles the Obama administration, according to Cole’s letter.
“There has, however, been an increase in the scope of commercial cultivation, sale, distribution, and use of marijuana for purported medical purposes,” according to the letter. “For example, within the past 12 months, several jurisdictions have considered or enacted legislation to authorize multiple, large-scale, privately operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers. Some of these planned facilities have revenue projections of millions of dollars based on the planned cultivation of tens of thousands of cannabis plants.”
The earlier memo “never intended to shield such activities from federal law enforcement and prosecution, even when these activities purport to comply with state law,” according to the letter.
There are six approved alternative treatment centers operators in New Jersey — the nonprofit companies that will grow and sell the drug — that are preparing to launch their operations sometime this summer.
Roseanne Scotti of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey said her reading of the letter suggests New Jersey workers and the program itself are safe.
“This is laying out explicitly who is at risk,” Scotti said. “If you are planning on growing tens of thousands of plants and making millions of dollars, you are going to be under the purview of federal law enforcement. That is not what is planned for New Jersey.”
“I would implore Governor Christie, beg Gov. Christie to move forward with this program with all possible speed. The people we represent are on the phone to us crying. They do not have a hangnail. They have diseases like ALS, which is the worst disease in the world,” Scotti said.
In an appearance on the “On the Line” call-in show broadcast on PBS stations on June 16, the governor said he would delay the program until he got a clear indication whether New Jersey people working in and using the program would get into trouble. “Until I get that assurance, I cannot ask people to do things that they might get prosecuted by federal prosecutors.”
“What happens if they get arrested and I ordered them to do it? That’s wrong,” Christie said.
The confusion arose in April, after the Washington governor and Oakland city officials asked the Obama administration whether federal law enforcement officials would target their legitimate medical marijuana programs.
The Justice Department replied by repeating earlier assertions that patients legally using a program would not be targeted. But it stressed no one would get a blanket immunity.
“We maintain the authority to enforce the Controlled Substance Act vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law,” according to the Justice departments letter to California and Oakland.
Dow sought clarification on what Holder’s letter meant.
“As the state’s chief legal adviser to all of the departments in the Executive Branch, many of which are participating in carrying out the medical marijuana legislation, it is critical that I properly advise them as to the potential criminal and civil ramifications of their actions in carrying out their duties,” according to Dow’s April letter. “Accordingly, I ask that you provide me with clear guidance as to the enforcement position of the Department of Justice relative to New Jersey’s medical marijuana legislation and the scope of the entities and individuals who may be subject to civil suit or criminal prosecution.”
Christie has made no secret he does not believe the law New Jersey enacted before he took office is restrictive enough to prevent the program from being abused by recreational marijuana users.
The law’s proponents argue New Jersey’s law is the most restrictive in the country, and Christie’s request for guidance was another way to delay the program.
Medical marijuana laws have passed in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Washington D.C., Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.