Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

President Obama's Marijuana Policy Changes

Posted on: March 9, 2009 at 8:02 a.m.

If there is an area of criminal law in Los Angeles that regularly frustrates Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys it is the area of law regarding medical marijuana. Medical marijuana lawyers are constantly battling between state and federal regulations, and during the Bush Administration there were major challenges. Now however, under President Obama, the policy regarding medical marijuana in Los Angeles may have taken a major turn.

With the recent change in presidents comes a very big shift in attitude towards marijuana. In late February of this year, newly-appointed Attorney General Eric Holder stated that President Obama intended to end many of the practices the Bush administration had used in regard to marijuana patients and providers.

Under the Bush administration, federal law enforcement officials can and did frequently arrest marijuana users and providers, as well as raid medical marijuana dispensaries, even in states like California where they were legal under state law. President Obama intends to honor states rights by allowing the 13 states that currently allow marijuana use for medical purposes to continue to do so without fear of federal law enforcement intervention.

While President Obama strictly maintains that he is not in favor of legalizing marijuana, a White House statement issued several weeks ago stated "The President believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws," and is expected to appoint new members for his drug policy team that are of the same opinion. The new presidents administration is expected to encourage each state to determine their own policies regarding marijuana and its use, which is a clear departure from policies in the Bush administration.

Unlike the previous president, Obama intends to mostly treat the majority of drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue, a sentiment he often voiced during his campaign for the presidency. The implications of this policy change could reach far and wide in California where it is currently a misdemeanor to be found in possession of marijuana and a felony to be found manufacturing or distributing the substance without a medical exemption.

With the application of federal law somewhat in flux, marijuana-related criminal charges in California require some delicate handling. If you have been charged with a crime relating to marijuana, contact a qualified criminal defense attorney immediately to begin reviewing the facts of your case.

With 50 years criminal defense experience, Kestenbaum, Eisner & Gorin specializes in successfully defending charges related to the Sales and Transportation of Marijuana (Penal Code Section 11360), Possession for Sale (Penal Code Section 11359), and Possession (Penal Code Section 11357). Our Los Angeles medical marijuana law firm has been recognized as a Top 5% U.S. Law Firm based on peer reviews from other attorneys, judges, and prosecutors, in the area of legal ethics, professionalism, and judgment. We have vast experience in defending all criminal matters including drug cases involving very large quantities of marijuana.

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Mikhail Silin CS 139 on June 6, 2009 at 9:07 p.m. wrote:

While I think this is a good step in the right direction in terms of marijuana policy, I'd really like to see the federal government take an official, LEGAL, stance on this besides ignoring the problem. This seems to be mostly a political issue - nobody wants to 'legalize' any sort of drugs. Obama must, and perhaps rightfully so, think that if he were to say 'let's legalize marijuana', people would flip out. However instead he says 'I will do what the states say' and leave it up to them. That is neither here nor there. If California, for example, chooses to violate marijuana, what would happen? Because federally it would still be a crime. So would a person from California selling marijuana to anyone else from another state, going to federal court, be charged with a crime or not? Or would the supreme court, as we've seen before (ex: http://keglawyers.com/blog/?p=226), just ignore the problem? I think that in order to have an effective policy and concentration in the war of drugs, the federal government needs to either repeal or change drug laws to better harmonize them with state laws. Otherwise, this on-the-side game of turning a blind eye on what the states to always leaves room for uncertainty, and for the federal government to ultimately come in and do what it wants regardless of the state law if it wishes to. In fact, now that I think about it, perhaps that's the whole point. To leave some wiggle room in case the medicinal marijuana in California or perhaps other states who choose to legalize it gets out of hand. That way the government can always step in based on federal law. While research is still being conducted on the effects and harms of marijuana, from the perspective of someone who needs it as medicine in California, this uncertainty toys with life and death, and is unacceptable in my view.

Elise Podsadecki (Comm 139) on May 30, 2009 at 9:21 p.m. wrote:

While I may not agree with some of President Obama’s policies, I am fully behind him on this one. There are various debilitating, often chronic ailments for which medicinal marijuana seems to be the best treatment not only for its ability to relieve pain, nausea, lack of appetite, etc, but also for its minimal side effects when compared with prescription medications. For the patients who have a true need, medicinal marijuana is an all-natural godsend. If it was legalized, it could be better controlled and the taxes from purchases of it could help alleviate some of our national (or at least state) deficit (years ago I remember hearing on the radio that marijuana was the number one cash crop in the United States, with a number in the $billions). Part of the problem is the abuse of the medical marijuana law by patients who fake medical ailments in order to obtain a physician’s recommendation and crooked physicians eager to earn quick, easy, large sums of money in office visit fees. Undercover investigations that have revealed just how easy it is for a person to get a prescription by using reasons like “high heels hurt their feet” or “their muscles ache after a long workout”. If caught these physicians usually have the licenses taken away for a few years, but even that is a bad situation for the patients who did have a legitimate need for medicinal marijuana. Thorough, legitimate medical exams should be employed and should be a requirement for physicians licensed to write medical marijuana recommendations. I can see how it is frustrating for defense lawyers. In my opinion the best defense for a medicinal marijuana patient with a true need is to get into the “heart zone” as Spence would say, which should not be difficult to do.

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