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Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

Medical marijuana no longer a priority for federal prosecution

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new medical marijuana prosecution guidelinesThe Obama administration announced today that people buying and selling marijuana for state-condoned medical uses should not be targeted for federal arrest or prosecution.


Marijuana is legal in more than a dozen states for some prescribed medical uses—such as pain reduction or treatment for glaucoma. It is still, however, illegal under federal law and had been treated as such during the Bush administration, which encouraged federal pursuit of people who used or distributed marijuana in accordance with state laws that permitted it.


The announcement, made today in a memo from Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, indicates that the new recommendations largely arise to trim Department of Justice workloads and "does not 'legalize' marijuana." Accordingly, "prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law…is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources," the memo stated.


The change in enforcement does not alter the government's position on other possession and distribution cases. As the memo made clear, "Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug, and the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime."


The states that permit some medical marijuana use include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.


The Justice Department memo comes soon after an announcement that Los Angeles would begin cracking down on its 1,000-odd marijuana dispensaries, many of which may illegally be making a profit, The New York Times reported.


In the research field, medical marijuana has also had its fair share of obstacles. Earlier this year, a request to open a lab dedicated to studying possible applications for medical pot use was denied by the Drug Enforcement Administration. One lab, however, called the Marijuana Project at the University of Mississippi, has been cultivating the plant for study for more than 40 years.


Image courtesy of Caveman 92223 via Flickr

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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