WASHINGTON – U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder announced Wednesday that the Justice Department had no plans to prosecute pot dispensaries operating legally under state laws in California and a dozen other states – a development that medical-marijuana advocates and civil libertarians hailed as a sweeping change in federal drug policy.
In recent months, officials in President Barack Obama’s administration indicated that they planned to take a hands-off approach to such clinics, but Holder’s comments – made at a wide-ranging briefing for reporters – offered the most detailed explanation to date.
President George W. Bush’s administration targeted medical marijuana distributors even in states that had passed laws allowing use of the drug for legitimate medical purposes. Holder said the priority of the new administration would be to go after egregious offenders operating in violation of both federal and state law.
“Those are the organizations, the people, that we will target,” the attorney general said.
Medical-marijuana activists and civil libertarians embraced Holder’s statement as the most forceful affirmation of a landmark turnaround from the Bush administration’s policy of zero tolerance for cannabis use by patients.
“Whatever questions were left, today’s comments clearly represent a change in policy out of Washington. He’s sending a clear message to the DEA,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.