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ACLU Says Department of Justice Memo Impedes Access of Medical Marijuana Patients to Vital Medicine

People in Compliance With State Medical Marijuana Laws Vulnerable to Prosecution

WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today said a federal drug enforcement mandate outlined in a Department of Justice (DOJ) memo threatening with federal prosecution people who grow, sell and distribute marijuana under the auspices of state medical marijuana laws could deny patients who suffer from serious medical conditions access to vital medicine. 

The memo, issued by Deputy U.S. Attorney General James M. Cole, claims it reiterates a 2009 DOJ memo issued by then Deputy Attorney General David Ogden stating that federal drug enforcement resources should not focus on people “whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the use of medical marijuana.” But Cole’s memo today makes clear that the only people for whom federal prosecution will be de-prioritized are patients and that everyone else involved in a rational and carefully calibrated system of state regulation is vulnerable to federal prosecution.

Cole’s memo comes several weeks after the ACLU sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking that he make clear DOJ will not prioritize the prosecution of people who comply with state medical marijuana laws – in keeping with previous DOJ policy. The ACLU sent its letter after several U.S. Attorneys across the country sent letters threatening to prosecute people in compliance with state medical marijuana laws, including state employees and state-licensed providers of medical marijuana.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted state medical marijuana laws. Today’s DOJ memo leaves these states with an untenable choice: to uphold the will of the voters and enact reasonable distribution schemes or bow to federal pressure and deny patients their medicine.


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The following can be attributed to Jay Rorty, director of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project:

“Patients who suffer from serious illnesses need safe and reliable access to their medicine without the fear of federal prosecution for them or their suppliers. The most tangible outcome of today’s memo will be that very sick people may be stripped of any legal avenue through which to access their vital medicine and needlessly and unconscionably left to suffer.

“States that have enacted medical marijuana statutes appear to be more concerned with public health than the federal government because states are taking every step to ensure that patients receive appropriate palliative care through regulated systems of distribution, whereas the federal government appears willing to allow patients to die in pain without appropriate pain relief.”


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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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