The federal government regulates drugs through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (21 U.S.C. § 811), which does not recognize the difference between medical and recreational use of marijuana. These laws are generally applied only against persons who possess, cultivate, or distribute large quantities of marijuana.
Under federal law, marijuana is treated like every other controlled substance, such as cocaine and heroin. The federal government places every controlled substance in a schedule, in principle according to its relative potential for abuse and medicinal value. Under the CSA, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means that the federal government views marijuana as highly addictive and having no medical value. Doctors may not “prescribe” marijuana for medical use under federal law, though they can “recommend” its use under the First Amendment.
The Obama Administration said earlier this year that it “firmly opposes” the legalization of any illicit drugs, including marijuana. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has said repeatedly that legalization is not in his vocabulary, and publicly stated, “Marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit.” He has no medical training and did not qualify his statements with any opinions from medical professionals. Kerlikowske’s 39-year-old son Jeff is in jail in Florida for parole violations stemming from marijuana-related charges. Kerlikowske said he has not spoken to or seen Jeff in over a decade.
The good news is that Federeal Prosecutors were given a memo issued by the Justice Department in 2009 advising that it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law. The guidelines being issued by the department do, however, make it clear that federal agents will go after people whose marijuana distribution goes beyond what is permitted under state law or use medical marijuana as a cover for other crimes. The memo specifically instructs prosecutors that they “should not focus federal resources in your states on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”