Update on Federal Law Enforcements Position on Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Possession


In 2009 and 2011, the United States Attorney General issued guidance to federal prosecutors concerning marijuana enforcement under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The guidelines were further updated in August of 2013.


The August 2013 update was done in light of state ballot initiatives that legalize under state law the possession of small amounts of marijuana and provide for the regulation of marijuana production, processing, and sale.


The update noted that it is still the position of the United States Congress that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime that provides a significant source of revenue to large-scale criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels. In furtherance of those objectives, as several states enacted laws relating to the use of marijuana for medical purposes, the Department in recent years has focused its efforts on certain enforcement priorities that are particularly important to the federal government:


• 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; and

• Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.


In circumstances where states are enacting and adequately enforcing medical marijuana laws, states and local governments will primarily be left to regulate themselves without the federal government interference. If state enforcement efforts are not sufficiently robust to protect against the harms set forth above, the federal government may seek to challenge the regulatory structure itself in addition to continuing to bring individual enforcement actions, including criminal prosecutions, focused on those harms.