Marijuana Prosecutions: Feds Shift Their Stance

The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration have all recently made announcements regarding pivotal policy shifts with regard to the approach toward marijuana cultivation, sale and consumption.
Our California marijuana lawyers know that first, there was the announcement by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that his prosecutors wouldn’t be pursing action against those in the industry who were abiding by strict regulatory guidelines as set forth by the states. He was specifically addressing the recent passage of recreational marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington state.

But advocates in may other states are taking this announcement to heart as they gear up to launch new initiatives across the country.

They have become further fortified by an even more recent announcement from Holder, indicating that the federal sentencing break extended to those accused of non-violent drug crimes would also apply those whose cases are “in the pipeline.”

In addition to Holder’s marijuana policy shift, his office had announced that efforts to drive down swelling federal prison populations and address unfair sentencing practices that disproportionately affected minorities would include a declination to pursue minimum mandatory sentences for first-time, non-violent drug offenders. Low-level drug offenders who aren’t tied to major trafficking organizations or violent gangs shouldn’t be charged in the same way, Holder said.

Although that directive was not retroactive to cases that have already been resolved, Holder has now clarified that the new policy will be applicable to cases that have yet to be resolved – i.e., those “still in the pipeline.”

The federal bureau of prisons reported recently that some 89,000 people are incarcerated at the federal level for drug crimes, accounting for about 47 percent of all federal prisoners.

In addition to Holder’s announcement, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has come out to say that it won’t crack down on armored car companies working with dispensaries in states where the drug is legal. There had previously been some confusion, as armored car companies indicated they had received directives from DEA officials in San Francisco not to work with dispensaries.

However, the deputy attorney general has now come forward to say that the interaction was simply a general inquiry – not a directive. He went on to say that there has been no effort to instruct armored car companies to refrain from work with marijuana dispensaries, in California or elsewhere.

That differs somewhat from the instructions that were previously handed down to banks by the U.S. Treasury Department. Banks had been warned to steer clear of doing business with marijuana providers, as they might then find themselves embroiled in federal criminal cases (as marijuana remains a strictly illegal Schedule I narcotic under federal law). Now, however, the treasury department has said it’s exploring new regulations that will ensure banks can accept deposits and make transfers for organizations and companies associated with legal marijuana transactions.

Of course, it’s still entirely possible that an individual or organization could go on to face severe criminal penalties for their marijuana-related activities. After all, even the president has made big promises with regard to a more lax approach to legalized marijuana. Unfortunately, those statements were not followed in practice.

So while we remain optimistic, we also remain cautious.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 949-375-4734.

Additional Resources:
Federal Sentencing Break to Include “Pipeline” Cases, Sept. 20, 2013, By Philip Smith
More Blog Entries:
Recreational Marijuana: Most States Likely to Adopt – Eventually, Sept. 23, 2013, California Marijuana Lawyer Blog

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