Two California lawmakers challenge Justice Department on medical marijuana

Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.

Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.

(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Two members of Congress from California who were authors of an amendment blocking the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana laws are disputing Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.’s narrow interpretation of the provision.

The Justice Department said last week that the bipartisan legislation to protect legal medical marijuana laws did not restrict federal prosecution of individuals or organizations that sell pot.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) and Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) sent Holder a letter Wednesday sharply disputing that reading of their amendment.

“As the authors of the provision in question, we write to inform you that this interpretation of our amendment is emphatically wrong,” the two lawmakers told Holder.

Referring to a Los Angeles Times article about the new interpretation last week, they wrote, “Criminal prosecutions ... as well as asset forfeiture actions like those mentioned in the recent L.A. Times article against dispensaries in the San Francisco Bay Area, were what motivated us ... to approve this measure.”


The Justice Department has considerably scaled back marijuana prosecutions since 2013.

But U.S attorneys in California had been particularly active in going after the loosely regulated medical marijuana industry, and a number of those cases are still winding their way through courts.

Marijuana advocates seized on the lawmakers’ letter to attack the California prosecutions.

“These federal prosecutors have gone rogue, and the attorney general needs to rein them in,” said Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group based in Washington that seeks to end marijuana prohibitions.

“Their campaign against medical marijuana is no longer just misguided, it’s also illegal,” Riffle said.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the letter.