Attorney General: Prosecuting Pot Businesses Complying with State Laws ‘Not a Priority’

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Medical cannabis professionals operating on the up-and-up can breathe a sigh of relief.

Sort of.

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder indicated once again that the federal government is not interested in going after medical marijuana dispensaries and related businesses that are complying with state MMJ regulations – repeating a position expressed in a 2009 memo that paved the way for today’s pot industry.

The only problem? The government apparently did in fact target some of these businesses in California recently as part of a larger crackdown.

“Where a state has taken a position, has passed a law and people are acting in conformity with the law — not abusing the law — that would not be a priority with the limited resources of our Justice Department,” Holder replied when asked about the issue during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

The 2009 memo, penned by Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden, stated that the federal government would put a low priority on prosecuting people who buy and sell medical marijuana in states that have legalized the practice. While not explicitly giving the go-ahead to MMJ operations, the government essentially said it would look the other way. Pot entrepreneurs and state officials took that as a positive sign and began moving forward with medical marijuana plans.

Since then, however, the federal government has created mass confusion by raiding dozens dispensaries, launching a huge crackdown in California and issuing vague statements on its position regarding medical marijuana.

So MMJ professionals are taking Holder’s latest words with a grain of salt, as the government seems to continuously flip-flop on the issue. Earlier this year, for example, the Department of Justice essentially said that anyone involved in growing, selling or distributing pot could be subject to federal prosecution, even if they are abiding by state laws.

Holder’s comments on Thursday will no doubt add to the confusion – in part because they were extremely convoluted and, once again, vague.

“What we said in the memo we still intend, which is that given the limited resources that we have, and if there are states that have medical marijuana provisions … if in fact people are not using the policy decision that we have made to use marijuana in a way that’s not consistent with the state statute, we will not use our limited resources in that way,” Holder said at one point.

Still, Colorado Rep. Jared Polis – who asked the questions about medical marijuana – seemed somewhat encouraged by Holder’s response. Colorado has some of the strictest MMJ laws in the country, forcing dispensaries and growers to follow a host of rules and regulations related to everything from security to sanitation. That, many officials believe, helps protect individuals and businesses from federal prosecution. In California, where the federal government has concentrated most of its MMJ enforcement efforts, the laws are much more lax, and there are many questionable players in the market.

You can see the entire exchange between Polis and Holder here: