DOJ Changes Marijuana Enforcement Policy
Special Report - October 23, 2009
The U.S. Department of Justice announced October 19 that the federal government will not seek to prosecute individuals who use marijuana for medical reasons in states where medical marijuana is legal, as long as these individuals follow the state law regarding its use. In a three-page memorandum addressed to select U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden said the purpose of the memo was to provide “uniform guidance to focus federal investigation and prosecution in the states on core federal enforcement priorities.” Attorney General Ogden emphasized that the DOJ “is committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in all States. Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug, and the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime and provides a significant source of revenue to large-scale criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels.” Although the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, criminalizing its distribution, use, or possession, Ogden noted that medical marijuana laws vary across the states, and said that it would not be “an efficient use of limited federal resources” to prosecute individuals who “are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” Currently, 13 states have passed laws that legalize the use of medical marijuana in some form, although these laws vary in scope.
Ogden noted that the memo “does not ‘legalize’ marijuana or provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law, nor is it intended to create any privileges, benefits, or rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable by any individual, party or witness in any administrative, civil, or criminal matter….Rather, this memorandum is intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion.”
During the 2008 short session of the North Carolina General Assembly, a measure was introduced by Representative Earl Jones (DGuilford), asking the Legislative Research Commission to study the “possible public benefits of allowing marijuana or its chemical equivalent to be used for medicinal purposes.” The bill never made it out of committee. Similar bills have been introduced over the past several years but none have passed.
As we previously reported, a 2008 report from the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy concluded that marijuana and depression are a “dangerous combination,” especially for teenagers. The federal study addressed the growing problem of marijuana use among depressed teenagers in the United States, who are twice as likely to use pot or illicit drugs as teens who are not depressed. Instead of relieving the symptoms of depression, the report warned that marijuana use can actually make depression worse and lead to more serious mental health problems ranging from anxiety and schizophrenia to suicide.
“Marijuana is illegal in the majority of states, including North Carolina, and under federal law for good reason,” said Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “It is an addictive drug that is associated with physical, social, behavioral, and academic harm, especially for adolescents. This is a flawed and dangerous federal policy that will only make distribution of and access to marijuana easier.”
For more on the issue of medical marijuana, read our January/February 2009 Family North Carolina article, “The Dangers of Medical Marijuana.”
Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.