Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney for the District of Oregon, sat down with the Oregon Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana (ACMM) to take some questions from the patient-advocacy board about the federal government’s priorities regarding medical marijuana cases in Oregon. Marshall was well-prepared, quick-witted and clearly knew the ins and outs of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP). While she wouldn’t discuss pending cases, she was surprisingly pretty open and honest about her views and how she decides to prosecute medical marijuana cases.
Ms. Marshall stated that she only prosecutes Oregon growers and providers who are not in “clear and unambiguous” compliance with state law. She considers the quantity of plants and cannabis, whether there are sales involved and whether any of the marijuana is crossing state lines. When asked if it would be okay for medical marijuana card holders and organizations to provide cannabis for free to Oregon patients (since that is clearly and unambiguously allowed under the OMMP), MS. Marshall wouldn’t ever say that it is okay to violate federal law, but her criteria for prosecution made it clear that such actions were not a prosecutorial priority for her. When asked about jury nullification, Ms. Marshall stated that she was morally opposed to the practice because, in her experience, jurors who utilize the practice lie during the jury selection process. I had hoped that an ACMM member would follow up on that question to see whether she would have felt the same if she was prosecuting people for helping “fugitive” slaves when our federal government still sanctioned slavery.
Amanda also shed a bit of light on the workings of other US Attorneys, mentioning that they don’t get all that much guidance from Attorney General Eric Holder because he is overwhelmed and extremely busy dealing with, in her opinion, one of the toughest jobs in the world. Different US Attorneys across the country in medical marijuana states may have different priorities and these federal attorneys meet in a workgroup that includes states that are allegedly the recipient of large amounts of cannabis grown in medical marijuana states. They contemplate different policy decisions some have undertaken, such as only concentrating on dispensaries operating within a 1,000 feet from a school. While many have argued that US attorneys are targeting growers and providers acting in compliance with state law, she stated that her colleagues do consider state law and that their perspective is likely that their targets are not following state law.
Born and raised in Oregon, Amanda admitted to attending Grateful Dead concerts and that she doesn’t “think holistically that the War on Drugs has been successful.” The meeting room filled with patient advocates and cannabis activists applauded when she stated that she believes that drug use should be considered more of a health issue than a criminal justice issue. She went on to state that she wasn’t a policy maker, she is a public safety official within the Executive Branch and her job is to prevent and decrease crime.
Amanda claimed that most law enforcement officials are prioritizing other drugs, but that they are “literally tripping over kilos” of marijuana bound for other states. While she did state that she was glad that Oregon didn’t legalize marijuana first, she stated that she wasn’t going to try to influence state law and that her office and other law enforcement officials would still have a role to play if cannabis prohibition is repealed as there would still be people violating the various rules and regulations implemented. Previous to Ms. Marshall’s appearance before the ACMM, the OMMP staff wouldn’t provide an answer as to whether the OMMP had been subpoenaed by the federal government.
Just as we are waiting for the Obama Administration to signal the federal government’s intention regarding the legalization laws in Colorado and Washington, so is Amanda Marshall and the other US attorneys. While I don’t think that we can necessarily count Ms. Marshall as an ally in the fight to end cannabis prohibition, it seemed apparent to me that we could certainly do much worse than her and that she is clearly and unambiguously more reasonable than her predecessor, Dwight Holton. It was refreshing that she was willing to admit that the Drug War has not been successful and that she has a recovering addict in her family that she was happy avoided prison and has gone on to be an inspiration to Ms. Marshall. It was a testament to her character that she was willing to take a series of questions from the Oregon ACMM. I look forward to the day when we end cannabis prohibition in Oregon and beyond so that Ms. Marshall can further concentrate her prosecutorial skills on serious and dangerous criminals instead of people growing and providing cannabis.
Republished with the special permission of the National Cannabis Coalition