Medical marijuana: Could the Justice Department arrest state MMJ employees?
Ever since U.S. Attorney John Walsh sent a letter suggesting that parts of HB 1043, the medical marijuana cleanup bill, would likely violate U.S. law, the local MMJ community has feared a federal crackdown on the industry -- and perhaps even on state employees regulating it. Do comments made in Rhode Island yesterday by Attorney General Eric Holder clarify the situation? Not particularly, admits one advocate, but he sees reason for optimism.
According to the Providence Journal, Holder was in Rhode Island to attend an event associated with The Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence. But many of the questions at a news conference pertained to medical marijuana, which the state has recently embraced. Why? On April 29, Peter Neronha, Rhode Island's U.S. Attorney, sent Governor Lincoln Chafee a letter warning him that the feds reserved the right to prosecute individuals associated with three dispensaries chosen to sell MMJ in the state. As a result, Chafee delayed licensing the centers.
After referencing similar letters in states including Colorado, the Journal adds that U.S. Attorneys in Washington "recently said that state employees involved in the licensing or regulation of medical marijuana could be subject to arrest and prosecution. As a result, Governor Chris Gregoire vetoed key pieces of a medical-marijuana law, saying she didn't want to place state employees at risk."
When reporters asked Holder if officials in Rhode Island could face similar retribution, he avoided specifics, the Journal reports. Instead, he offered a series of variations on this quote: "We are in the process of working [on] these issues with the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island and other U.S. Attorneys across the country. My hope is that sometime in the not too distant future... it will be addressed."
Such remarks leave a lot of room for interpretation. But Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente, who's both an MMJ advocate and the co-author of proposed 2012 marijuana legalization initiatives, says, "It feels like there's some positive news in there, in that Holder and the federal government are willing to engage with state authorities and talk about potentially allowing dispensaries, and perhaps recognizing the important role they play in servicing sick patients. I think it's a more measured take than we saw from prior DEA heads or the Bush administration."