U.S. to end war on medical marijuana in legal states

Mon Oct 19, 2009 7:58pm EDT
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By James Vicini and Dan Whitcomb

WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a sharp policy shift, the Obama administration told federal attorneys not to prosecute patients who use marijuana for medical reasons or dispensaries in states where it has been legalized.

A Justice Department official said the formal guidelines were issued Monday to reflect President Barack Obama's views. The Bush administration had said it could enforce the federal law against marijuana and that it trumped state laws.

The decision was praised by activists in California, the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. But concern remains among some medical and law enforcement authorities about hundreds of clinics said to be selling pot under the protection of state law and without regard to health.

A spokesman for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a brief statement in which Schwarzenegger appeared to support the policy change:

"The governor believes it is appropriate for the federal government to focus their resources on criminal activity and securing the border," the statement said.

As a candidate during his presidential bid last year, Obama said he intended to halt raids of medical marijuana facilities operating legally under state laws.

After he took office in January, a Drug Enforcement Administration raid on a dispensary in Lake Tahoe, California, raised questions about whether he would follow that pledge.

A White House spokesman repeated Obama's view that "federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws."   Continued...

<p>Pancreatic cancer surviror Mellody Gannon smokes medicinal marijuana during the annual convention of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in San Francisco, September 25, 2009. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith</p>