States Adjust to Leading Role in Medical Marijuana Enforcement

States with medical-marijuana laws on the books are taking a harder look at their statutes now that the Obama administration has announced that legitimate medical users and suppliers won’t be prosecuted under federal law, the New York Times reported Oct. 26.

States tended to rely on the federal government to keep their medical-marijuana programs in check, with state laws often left vague about who can legally supply the drug. With the new policy directive to federal prosecutors, however, states are moving to more formally define their medical-marijuana rules, particularly regarding manufacture and sales of the drug.

California cities like Los Angeles, for example, are cracking down to ensure that so-called “compassion centers” are operating as nonprofit organizations. New Hampshire is concerned that its budget-strapped health department doesn’t have the capacity to administer the state’s medical-marijuana program.

Some observers believe that the federal government’s new guidelines onenforcement could spur more states to adopt medical-marijuana laws, which are in effect in 13 states and under consideration in at least five others. States with existing laws also could move to make medical-marijuana access more mainstream, rather than effectively forcing users to get the drug on the streets.

“The fact that the feds are backing off is going to allow changes that are going to make it more accessible,” said Oregon state Sen. Bill Morrisette, who chairs a state medical-marijuana oversight committee.

For now, however, the quandary for state officials was succinctly enunciated by Colorado attorney general John W. Suthers. “The federal Department of Justice is saying it will only go after you if you’re in violation of state law,” he said. “But in Colorado it’s not clear what state law is.”

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