In a memo recently issued to all United States Attorneys, Deputy Attorney General James Cole warns that the federal government will be cracking down on the large-scale private cultivation of marijuana, despite existing state laws that authorize such activity. The memo is a follow-up to a 2009 memorandum entitled the “Ogden Memo,” which essentially stated that it was a waste of the federal government’s resources to focus enforcement efforts on individuals who use medical marijuana for illnesses such as cancer. The Ogden Memo was largely seen as an expression by the federal government that they were taking a more “hands off” approach to medical marijuana and the state laws that legalize the use of the drug for express medical purposes. However, it appears that states have taken it too far and the federal government is once again stepping in.
Deputy Attorney General Cole notes that there has “been an increase in the scope of commercial cultivation, sale, distribution and use of marijuana for purported medical purposes,” and that the Ogden Memo was “never intended to shield such activities.” The memo emphasizes that the alleviated federal enforcement purported by the Ogden Memo was only intended to benefit those suppliers of marijuana legally characterized as “caregivers.” It was never intended to shield the wide-spread commercial cultivation and distribution of marijuana or to support privately operated industrial marijuana cultivations centers. Deputy Attorney General Cole asserts that broad state laws have allowed for an increase in the scope of commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana, and that the federal government will no longer tolerate such activities.
The memo further cautions that state and local laws are not a defense to the enforcement of a federal law such as The Controlled Substances Act. Therefore, although state and local laws may allow the use and distribution of marijuana, it is still a federally illegal activity and will be treated as such by federal officers. For now, it appears that the federal government remains focused on curbing the illegal distribution and use of marijuana. However, the give and take between the federal and state governments regarding the legalization of medical marijuana is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.