In a new memo to federal prosecutors, the Department of Justice says that marijuana dispensaries and licensed growers in states with medical marijuana laws could still face penalties for violating federal drug laws. U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote:
The Department of Justice is committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in all States. Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime that provides a significant source of revenue to large scale criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels.
This comes two years after then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden released a memo that directed federal prosecutors "not to focus federal resources" on the prosecution of individuals who are in compliance with laws in the states that allow for the sale and use of medicinal marijuana, in what has become known as the "Ogden memo."
Memos from the Attorney General are not law, but often direct what states and localities are willing to do.
So what caused the change of heart?
The Department's view of the efficient use of limited federal resources as articulated in the Ogden Memorandum has not changed. There has, however, been an increase in the scope of commercial cultivation, sale, distribution and use of marijuana for purported medical purposes. For example, within the past 12 months, several jurisdictions have considered or enacted legislation to authorize multiple large-scale, privately-operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers.
As in, we're looking at you Oakland.