Yuli Weeks/California Watch
As soon as today, Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to release a letter clarifying the Justice Department’s policy toward the 16 states that have approved medical marijuana laws.
Of particular importance to California is whether federal authorities will tolerate states, cities or counties licensing and regulating commercial marijuana growing and distribution.
Tommy LaNier of the National Marijuana Initiative, which is funded by the White House, is unequivocal: "That, in very simple terms, is what drug traffickers do,” LaNier says.
Justice Department officials in California say they are stepping up a broad enforcement strategy that could target medical marijuana operators even if they are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
But Jay Rorty, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, says those warnings violate previous assurances from federal officials.
"It's important that the DOJ makes clear that people who are complying with valid state law do not fear federal prosecution," Rorty says.
Rorty and others insist that was the promise made in a 2009 Justice Department memo, which he interprets this way: Comply with state law, and federal officials won't prosecute you.
But Justice Department officials are saying the exemption applies only to seriously ill people, not commercial growers or medical marijuana distribution outlets.
In a co-production with the Center for Investigative Reporting, KQED’s "The California Report" took a closer look at the Obama administration’s pushback on medical marijuana and how it’s stifling the growth of the medical marijuana industry in cities like Oakland. The story is the first installment in the forthcoming multimedia series “Republic of Cannabis.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of states that have passed medical marijuana laws. Currently, 16 states have approved legislation legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. However, only 15 states have active medical marijuana programs.