Holder says Feds will stop medical marijuana raids

Breaking with previous policy, the Obama administration will look the other way in states that have legalized cannabis for medical purposes.

Published February 26, 2009 5:20PM (EST)

For those of you keeping score at home, add another major policy shift by the Obama administration to the tally. Breaking with precedent set under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the Department of Justice will not raid medical marijuana dispensaries allowed under certain state laws.

President Obama had promised this during the campaign, but a recent raid -- conducted before new officials were in place -- led some to question whether that promise would be kept. On Wednesday, Huffington Post's Ryan Grim reports, Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that it would be.

It's a common misperception that, in states like California which have passed measures legalizing it, medical marijuana is completely legal. It's not. Federal law takes precedence, and federal authorities have made no secret of their belief that any user or distributor -- even one authorized by the state -- can be arrested at any time.

There are, at most, only a handful of people who can legally use medical marijuana whenever and wherever they please -- marijuana supplied to them by the federal government, no less. They were part of a program that ran from the late 1970's until the 1990's, when the first Bush administration shut it down, and they were grandfathered in. When last I checked, there were an estimated five patients still remaining, but that was a few years ago, and one or more may have died since.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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