Obama’s Federalist Approach to Medical Marijuana

In new guidelines announced today, the Obama Administration has decided that it will deferring to the states on enforcing marijuana laws when those states have laws allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The Obama administration will not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws, under new policy guidelines to be sent to federal prosecutors today.

Two Justice Department officials described the policy to the Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state laws.

The policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.

Fourteen states allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

A small step in the right direction, but a step nonetheless.

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. Federalism when it is convenient?

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    It is a good step. Now let’s see Federalism applied more broadly.

  3. Obama will hearken back to the good ol’ days of Federalism with issues like this one or gay marriage when its convenient, but this step isn’t symbolic of some shift in ideology. Obama’s not a Federalist he’s a Statist, and if he can throw his Liberal base a bone like this one before delivering on the main course, healthcare, than he’s happy to compromise his big government policies.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    I’m curious whether Obama will pardon Charles Lynch after his DOJ specifically refused to intervene in his sentencing for medical marijuana distribution legal under California law.

    The answer is possibly “no.” The US Attorney’s office retains the discretion to prosecute violations of federal law within the district. So the question might be whether the new policy will help as many people as hurt. I’d rather see Obama propose an exemption from federal drug laws for medical marijuana distribution under approved state programs.

  5. AlphaOmega says:

    “He’s a Statist” You mean COMMUNIST like Lincoln don’t you? The US has been going RED since the mid 1800’s and now decided to change colors and go GREEN. Make no mistake about it that Environmentalism is simply a new label for the population control system called COMMUNISM. Stoned people are less likely to realize that the US government system known as a REPUBLIC has been converted to Communism. Each and every day we hear the word uttered all over the place…
    Majority Rule means that of 100 people if 51 vote to take your land or 51 vote to have you hung well guess what? Your right to property is GONE along with LIBERTY.
    I wonder how many here realize that the Preamble of the Constitution in and of itself prohibits ABORTION? Read it yourself…
    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
    The Federal Government never had the right to pass legislation or create agencies like the BATF&E that revolve around State’s Rights or the Right of the People. Drug laws have been justified by the MAJORITY as a solution to, in the end create millions of Civil Service jobs and building prisons. Now the government makes a minor concession in hopes that everyone gets stoned and shuts up while they finish the conversion to a global oligarchy that uses a Communist population control system…

  6. Don’t forget the threats to our precious bodily fluids.

  7. anjin-san says:

    Scaling down the idiotic war on drugs is a good thing, I think everyone can agree on that.

  8. floyd says:

    California is proof enough that this is about recreational use, with medical use as the “toe in the door”.
    Drug tests for welfare would mitigate my objection to general legalization.

  9. Rick DeMent says:

    and you all though the Birchers were gone 🙂

  10. anjin-san says:

    California is proof enough that this is about recreational use

    Do you honestly give a rat’s ass if somebody wants to smoke pot? Legalize it, tax it, and call it a day…

  11. I don’t know if I really want the government to have any more money. The only thing they use it for is to get bigger and . . . get more money. And so the Leviathan grows.

  12. floyd says:

    “”Do you honestly give a rat’s ass if somebody wants to smoke pot?””

    My answer is in my first comment.