Federal announcement may impact local medical marijuana dispensaries

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An announcement made by the Obama administration last week marks a turning point in the federal government’s approach to marijuana use and sale.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole released a memo on Thursday stating that the federal government will allow state laws legalizing recreational marijuana use to stand and that it will refrain from targeting cannabis dispensaries solely based on their “size or commercial nature.”

The statement appears to be a large turnaround from the federal government’s actions since 2008, said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

“It has been extremely frustrating,” Worthington said. “The Obama administration has probably had stricter policies … than some of the more reactionary administrations in Washington.”

Addressed to U.S. attorneys in all 50 states, the memo details that regulation of the marijuana industry will be controlled solely at the state level and that federal prosecutors should only intrude when operations interfere with federal priorities.

The announcement could impact the fate of the Berkeley Patients Group, a local cannabis dispensary currently fighting a lawsuit brought against it by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in May, Worthington said. In July, the city of Berkeley filed a claim supporting the dispensary.

The memo is the third of its kind from the administration, following similar statements in 2009 and 2011. This year’s statement will likely enact the most significant changes, said Lanette Davies, director of Crusaders for Patients’ Rights, an advocacy group for medical marijuana patients.

“We’re very happy and more hopeful,” Davies said. “It has to do with the fact that we now have 20 (medicinal) states and two recreational states.”

Contact Claire Chiara at [email protected].

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