Medical Marijuana Laws: New Federal Guidelines

By Caleb Groos on October 19, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Department of Justice released new guidelines addressing the enforcement of marijuana laws and medical marijuana. The guidelines reverse federal policy under the Bush administration by instructing federal officers not to go after marijuana users or suppliers who comply with their states' medical marijuana laws.

According to the LA Times, the formal move came after some confusion surrounded federal marijuana raids which happened after Obama took office. Obama stated during the campaign that federal raids on state compliant medical marijuana would stop.

As described by Attorney General Holder, the move is part of the DOJ's broader attempt to "effectively focus our resources on serious drug traffickers while taking into account state and local laws."

The DOJ press release states that 14 states have enacted laws allowing for some form of medical marijuana use.

While the guidelines represent a change in national policy toward state sanctioned medical marijuana, federal authorities will continue to pursue marijuana traffickers who are not in strict compliance with state laws.

As Los Angeles currently illustrates, many of the medical marijuana dispensaries in operation may not comply with California's rules around the provision of medical marijuana. If California's rules are strictly enforces, they would likely ban any of these outfits from operating for profit.

And if dispensaries (or their suppliers) aren't in compliance with state laws, they'll continue to be subject to federal enforcement actions despite the new DOJ guidelines.

The guidelines are not meant to provide anyone with assurance that they won't be investigated or prosecuted, but rather to clarify to federal authorities that they "should not focus federal resources in [their] States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."

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