by Karen O'Keefe
The Obama administration’s stunning betrayal of medical marijuana patients claimed a new victim today. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell announced that he would halt the implementation of the state’s medical marijuana dispensary program following a vague and threatening letter from U.S. Attorney Charles Oberly III.
Oberly’s letter, dated February 9 but made public today, says that patients and individual caregivers would not be federal enforcement priorities, but that entities distributing marijuana “could” be targeted. It also says that state employees would not be immune from liability under the Controlled Substances Act for acts mandated by the Delaware medical marijuana law.
Mr. Oberly’s intimidating sentence about state employees is particularly outrageous given that the Delaware law does not require any violation of federal law. Mr. Oberly does not say what actions he believes would constitute violations of the CSA.
In Delaware, state employees would not possess, cultivate, or dispense marijuana. They would merely register those entities that would no longer be criminalized under Delaware law and set up rules dispensaries would abide by for such protections. No court has found that such conduct would constitute a federal crime, and the federal government has not taken any criminal or civil actions against states with medical marijuana programs.
U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby in the Eastern District of Washington state sent a similarly vague letter, which was used as a reason for Gov. Christine Gregoire to veto a dispensary regulation bill. Yet, when an Arizona paper asked why state employees would be at risk in Washington but apparently not in Arizona, U.S. Attorney Ormsby said his concern was that state employees would be grading and handling — and thus possessing — marijuana under the Washington proposal. However, this was likely not even an accurate understanding of the Washington bill.
Following a two-year campaign led by legislators, patients, and MPP, Delaware became the 16th medical marijuana state last May. An affirmative defense went into effect on July 1, allowing qualifying patients who possess marijuana to prove the defense in court to avoid a conviction. The Markell administration was expected to release rules for dispensaries in the coming weeks, with three dispensaries being registered by the end of the year. The rules would also provide for ID cards to protect patients from arrest. Halting the dispensary program forces patients to the criminal market, or leaves them with no access to their medicine at all.
If you live in Delaware, please urge Gov. Markell to reverse course, to stand by patients, and to fully implement the compassionate law. Regardless of where you live, please let President Obama know it’s past time to live up to his word. If the Obama administration’s hostility to medical marijuana patients and providers will affect your vote in November, or your willingness to donate or volunteer for him, please let his campaign know.