TRENTON – In a response to a query from State Attorney General Paula Dow about the potential prosecution of government workers implementing the state’s medical marijuana program, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a memo Wednesday that shed little light on how the department will treat medical marijuana facilities and the employees who monitor them.
The memo from Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole makes clear that the federal government considers marijuana illegal and will prosecute wholesale growers and distributors of the drug.
Cole references the 2009 “Ogden memo,” which told U.S. Attorneys that prosecuting users of medical marijuana and their caregivers would not constitute a good use of law enforcement resources.
But Cole stops short of green lighting the state’s program, which authorizes six licensed marijuana dispensaries throughout the state, telling Dow that “large scale, privately operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers” do not fall within the scope of the Ogden memo.
“The Ogden memorandum was never intended to shield such activities from federal enforcement action and prosecution, even where those activities purport to comply with state law,” the memo said. “Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana and those who knowingly facilitate such activities are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act.”
Cole does go on to say that depending on resources and the discretion of the U.S. Attorney, “such persons are subject to federal enforcement action.”
Dow had sought the clarification from the Attorney General after letters from U.S. Attorneys in Washington and California surfaced that seemed to threaten prosecution of medical marijuana dispensers and the state employees who are tasked with monitoring them.
In her letter, Dow asked for guidance so she could properly advise state employees of their risks.
“As the State’s chief legal adviser to all of the departments in the Executive Branch, many of which are participating in carrying out the medical marijuana legislation, it is critical that I properly advise them as to the potential criminal and civil ramifications of their actions in carrying out their duties,” Dow wrote. “Accordingly, I ask that you provide me with clear guidance as to the enforcement position of the Department of Justice relative to New Jersey’s medical marijuana legislation and the scope of the entities and individuals who may be subject to civil suit or criminal prosecution.”
Gov. Chris Christie halted the program until the the state received federal guidance.
It’s unclear if the response will provide any reassurance to Dow or to state employees who monitor the program. A spokesman for Dow said only that the attorney general is reviewing the letter and will advise her clients accordingly.
The medical marijuana program has been controversial since it was authorized by the legislature last year. Christie is not a fan of the program and has pushed for some of the most stringent rules in the state to govern the growing and dispensing of medical marijuana.
Some proponents, including the sponsors of the bill accused Christie of trying to submarine the law by ordering Dow to ask for guidance on the program.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, one of the sponsors in the lower chamber reiterated that feeling yesterday.
“This was a stall tactic,” Gusciora said. He read the memo to be a green light from the DOJ and said the response should allow the administration to go ahead. “We knew that the Department of Justice was not going to prosecute one of the strictest programs in the country.”
The governor’s office referred questions to Dow’s office.
A copy of the response, along with a cover letter from U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman is attached