The Obama administration will not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws, under new policy guidelines to be sent to federal prosecutors today.
Two Justice Department officials described the policy to the Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state laws.
The policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.
Fourteen states allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said in March that he wanted federal law enforcement officials to pursue those who violated federal and state law, but it has not been clear how that goal would be put into practice.
A three-page memo spelling out the policy is expected to be sent today to federal prosecutors in the 14 states and to top officials at the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the legal guidance before it is issued.
The government will still prosecute those who use medical marijuana as a cover for other illegal activity, the officials said.
The memo warns that some suspects may hide drug dealing or other crimes behind a medical marijuana business. In particular, the memo urges prosecutors to pursue marijuana cases that involve violence, illegal use of firearms, selling pot to minors, money laundering or other crimes.