Med. marijuana: Eric Holder okay with lawful MMCs, but do threats remain?
This week, Congressman Jared Polis quizzed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder about the Department of Justice's approach to medical marijuana; see a video of the exchange below. For the most part, Holder suggested that MMJ businesses following state law are not Department of Justice priorities, despite recent crackdowns in California and elsewhere. Attorney Jessica Peck sees positives in his responses, but also areas of concern for the industry.
Peck, a lawyer and political strategist for Henley Public Affairs, is a fan of Polis's. "I've spoken with him, and I'm very impressed with how he talks with all the different stakeholders and works with everyone, including Republicans," she says. "I think he went into the committee hearing trying to get points from all perspectives, which is what a congressman should do."
Regarding Holder's responses to Polis's questions, she calls them "fascinating, because you have the White House now saying it stands behind its previous position as outlined in the Ogden memo" -- a 2009 document penned by Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, which directed U.S. Attorneys not to target medical marijuana businesses in states where they're legal as long as they're following state law.
Photo by Kim Sidwell Jessica Peck.
This summer, a memo by another deputy attorney general, James Cole "articulated a different position" than did the Ogden directive, Peck believes. In it, Cole wrote that while "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 regiment consistent with applicable state law, or their caregivers," he stressed that the term "caregiver" means "individuals providing care to individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses, not commercial operations cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana." In other words, a dispensary isn't a caregiver.
Given this apparent shift, Peck was cheered when Holder said the Ogden memo is still current. That shows "the White House is standing behind its original position," she feels, "and that's significant. And I also thought Holder's wording was interesting. It was clear he didn't know a lot about Colorado's system. But he did say it's the federal government's position that so long as people are acting in conformity with state law, the feds don't see it as a law enforcement priority. That's different from what was previously said, which called for 'unambiguous compliance.'
"I caution against reading too much into that" when it comes to the industry in Colorado, she continues. "But the federal government raids in California were based on a set of facts that are very different from what we see in Colorado. I get that question a lot: Why aren't there federal raids in Colorado? And I tell them we have a constitutionally protected system and extensive regulations, and we don't have the infighting between state agencies that a lot of states do. This is truly a trans-partisan system, with the most conservative Republicans coming together with the most liberal Democrats."
Still, there was one aspect of Holder's comments that worries Peck.
Page down to continue reading and see the Polis-Holder video.