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Don't prosecute medical-marijuana use, Obama administration says

A Justice Department memo issued Monday tells federal prosecutors to ease off medical-marijuana users and sellers in states that have legalized the drug.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / October 19, 2009

A box is filled with marijuana plants at the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Clinic in San Francisco, Monday.

Eric Risberg/AP

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Los Angeles

Monday’s news that the Obama administration will not go after medical-marijuana users and suppliers who conform to state laws is being met with relief from pro-legalization activists, consternation from anti-activists – and renewed energy on both sides to clarify state and federal laws about cannabis use.

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In a reversal of Bush administration policy, the Justice Department Monday issued a memo to federal prosecutors in the states that have legalized medical marijuana, telling them to ease off on medical-marijuana users in these states.

Illegal drug trafficking is a priority but prosecutors should not waste federal resources "on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana,” says the memo, which has also been sent to FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

States that have legalized medical marijuana include California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Nationally, the announcement raises two questions, says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). One: What does the administration plan to do with the federal cases pending by the Bush administration? And two: Is the new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, communicating with the rest of the Obama administration?