Criminal defense attorneys in Arizona are paying close attention since August 29, 2013, when the United States Department of Justice announced a major policy shift regarding the federal government’s long-running war on marijuana. First, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would not be suing to halt the implementation of laws in Colorado and Washington that permit the recreational use of marijuana for adults. On that same date, Deputy Attorney James Cole released to the public a four-page memo written as guidance for federal prosecutors. The policy changes set out in this recent memo could drastically alter the legal landscape for Arizona’s Medical Marijuana statutes.
In his memo, the Deputy Attorney General directs all United States Attorneys to focus on the eight priorities of federal marijuana enforcement, which are:
- Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;
- Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
- Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
- Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
- Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
- Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
- Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands;
- Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
Although the instructions contained in the August 2013 memo are binding on all United States Attorneys, there is still a lot of leeway for interpreting those instructions. In addition, the Department of Justice will still be carefully monitoring Arizona law to make sure that “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems” are in place. Most importantly, for the Feds to actually stay out of Arizona’s medical marijuana system, Arizona “must provide the necessary resources and demonstrate the willingness to enforce [Arizona] laws and regulations in a manner that ensures they do not undermine federal enforcement priorities.” Whether Arizona officials can meet the required enforcement standard remains to be seen.
Given the ever-evolving complexities of medical marijuana in Arizona, if you have any questions about your involvement in this issue, you should always consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.