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DOJ medical marijuana memo won’t end state’s lawsuit

Fake marijuana is displayed in a case July 1, at The 2811 Club, a private cannabis club that plans to dispense marijuana to medically qualified patients in Phoenix. Arizona officials were reviewing a new federal memo on possible criminal prosecutions related to medical marijuana, as a lawyer for would-be dispensary operators said the memo doesn't really change anything. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A recent letter intended to clarify the federal government’s policies on prosecuting medical marijuana cases won’t put an end to the state’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said July 6.

Horne said the highly anticipated June 29 letter only reiterated a 2009 DOJ memo that said it wasn’t an efficient use of resources to use the federal Controlled Substances Act to prosecute people who are seriously ill and complying with state medical marijuana laws.

The new memo, written by Deputy U.S. Attorney General James M. Cole, also doesn’t mention whether state employees who regulate medical marijuana would be breaking federal laws, but it did say that large scale commercial cultivation operations and dispensaries won’t be tolerated.

In late May, Gov. Jan Brewer the directors of the Department of Health Services and Department of Public Safety filed a federal suit against DOJ asking a judge to determine whether state employees who implement Arizona’s voter-approved medical marijuana program will be subject to federal prosecution.

“They knew state employees (were) a hot issue, but they chose not to say anything about it, which I think is telling,” Horne said.

One attorney who helped craft Proposition 203, the state’s marijuana law, said it was disappointing the Justice Department didn’t address the core issue of Brewer’s lawsuit.

“Given the litigation going on here, which certainly DOJ is aware of, it would have been maybe a little nice to toss in something about state employees, sort of take that off the table,” said Lisa Hauser, an attorney who represents Arizona Medical Marijuana Association.

U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke stated in a May 2 letter that he wasn’t going to prosecute state employees.

The June 29 memo says Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and the sale and distribution of the drug provides big money for gangs and cartels.

Hauser said people who were planning to open larger dispensaries are probably now going to have to reconsider their business plans since the feds indicated that abiding by Arizona medical marijuana laws won’t be a safe harbor from federal prosecution.

Hauser said the federal policy has the potential to drive ill people to obtain their marijuana illegally or grow it themselves.

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