Persons involved with medical marijuana–whether they are card-carrying patients or distributors or caregivers–are still subject to U.S. laws that classify marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, and that possessing it violates federal laws, according to a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix.
Dennis K. Burke, the U.S. Attorney for the Arizona District, wrote a letter to Department of Human Services Director Will Humble “in response to numerous inquiries” about the status of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) in the eyes of the law, so to speak.
“Growing, distributing, and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as part of a federally-authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws,” Burke wrote.
The U.S. Attorney will continue to follow a memo released in 2009 by then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden that states that seriously ill patients “who use marijuana as a medically-recommended treatment regimen and are in clear and unambigiuos compliance with state laws” will not be a priority for prosecution.
This is not the same as a safe harbor, which designates certain situations as as otherwise exempt from laws and regulations, but it does assure patients and families/caregivers that they will, in all likelihood, be left alone as long as they follow the AMMA.
Persons contemplating distribution or leasing space for that purpose, on the other hand, will be closely watched. The letter specifies that landlords, financiers and property owners who knowlingly facilitate in trafficking will not be protected by the AMMA.
In his blog, Director Humble warns that people who cultivate large amounts of marijuana and their landlords and financial backers may be subject to federal prosecution, even if they are strictly following DHS guidelines. Humble, who opposed the AMMA, has been admirably cooperative with the law, sticking to its schedule for releasing guidelines and setting up an online registry for medical marijuana patients as well as cultivators and distributors.
Burke’s letter can be downloaded from Humble’s blog.