Last updated on: 2/24/2011 2:24:48 PM PST
What Has Federal Law Enforcement Said about Medical Marijuana?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Harry Nelson, JD, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Fenton Nelson law firm, wrote the following in a Feb. 20, 2011 email to

"On October 19, 2009, [then] US Deputy Attorney General David Ogden issued a memorandum to federal prosecutors in states that had decriminalized cannabis for medicinal use, advising that, although prosecuting 'significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana' remained a DEA priority, prosecutors should not 'focus federal resources' on those 'whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.' Ogden cited as examples, undeniably ill patients with physician recommendations or their caregivers...

On February 1, 2011, in response to a proposal by the City of Oakland to license industrial cultivation of cannabis, Melinda Haag, the US Attorney for the Northern District of California, wrote to the City Attorney for the City of Oakland warning that federal prosecutors would 'enforce the [Controlled Substances Act] vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.' (emphasis added).

Based on these statements, it is not entirely clear where federal law enforcement draws the line in its respect for state medical marijuana laws. Qualified patients do not appear to have anything to worry about, but the same cannot be said for dispensaries or cultivators, even if they are associated with collectives or cooperatives in compliance with state law."

Feb. 20, 2011 - Harry Nelson, JD 

Mark Quinlivan, US Department of Justice Attorney, told the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a Mar. 27, 2006 hearing on a medical marijuana case, as reported in the Sacramento Bee on Mar. 28, 2006:

"The federal government always has focused on large-scale distributors and growers.... I know of no federal marijuana prosecutions based solely on personal possession."

Mar. 27, 2006 - US Department of Justice (DOJ) 

Richard Meyer, special agent and public information officer for the US Drug Enforcement Administration's San Francisco office, told the Lake County Record-Bee, as reported on Aug. 19, 2004:

"According to the United States Constitution there is a supremacy clause, which says that in case of conflict federal law precedes state law.

According to federal law, there is no such thing as medical marijuana. Marijuana is a dangerous drug that the United States Congress has classified as a Schedule One substance. A Schedule One substance doesn't have any accepted medical use in the United States and has a high potential for abuse."

Aug. 19, 2004 - US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) 

Carol O. Lam, US Department of Justice Attorney for the Southern District of California, told the San Diego Tribune in a Mar. 6, 2003 interview, published on Mar. 23, 2003:

"I think Prop. 215 [California's Medical Marijuana law] has put us all in a difficult position because it's clearly a law that suggests something that's contrary to federal law. And the passage of 215 and the adoption of the guidelines by the San Diego City Council have now placed the federal government in a position where we will have to increase enforcing in that area because it violates federal law.

Our view is that if people want to persuade the FDA and the DEA and Congress that marijuana is truly medicine, that's the route it should take. Until that's done, we'll continue to enforce that."

Mar. 6, 2003 - US Department of Justice (DOJ)