A group of federal prosecutors are pushing for a uniform path to cannabis enforcement nationwide, but have not offered any recommendations on how it would be executed.
The National District Attorneys Association is using the Supremacy Clause, part of the Constitution that allows federal law to overrule state law, to justify their call for enforcement. In a white paper released on April 20th, prosecutors called for consistent enforcement of marijuana laws in order to “maintain respect for the rule of law.” But instead of outlining tactics and strategies, the paper takes one small step away from the Supremacy Clause by encouraging more research on marijuana’s health effects and public safety issues.
“The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) supports ongoing research into medicinal uses of marijuana and its derivatives, carried out consistent with any other research regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). NDAA also supports research regarding the impact of marijuana use on driving, regulated by appropriate agencies.”
The paper has been met with criticism from marijuana activists, specifically for its disregard for the Cole Memo, a policy outlined by the Justice Department under the Obama administration that directs prosecutors and law enforcement, “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.”
In response, Eric Zahnd, prosecuting attorney for Platte County, Missouri who helped craft the paper, admitted that the Cole memo was intentionally ignored, despite its significance in reforming the war on drugs. “We have not taken a position on that, and purposefully did not take a position,” he said. “This report was never an attempt to address every controversial topic regarding marijuana use, but we wanted to address some of the important topics.”
Those topics focus on how marijuana legalization at the state level effects the public, specifically in reference to driving under the influence and how legalization affects children’s access to marijuana. “We need more research on both what constitutes impairment and how we are going to measure impairment,” said Zahnd.
Stan Garnett, the district attorney for Boulder County, Colorado, was an outspoken member of the group who contributed to the paper. “I think what this [white paper] reflects is this was a product of a committee within a pretty conservative group: NDAA is not at the forefront of creative social thought,” he said. “This reflects the view of many prosecutors across the United States.”
Some of the concerns addressed in the paper should have been countered by data from the state of Colorado, which first legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and recreational marijuana in 2012. In this state, teen use of marijuana has not changed since legalization, fewer drivers have been charged with DUI’s, and public awareness about marijuana has been made a priority by state health officials. But this didn’t seem to make an impression on the majority of the attorneys.
“We spent a lot of time on the committee trying to make sure they had an accurate understanding of what was happening in Colorado,” Garnett said. “It was pretty clear they didn’t.”
The paper has been distributed to DOJ officials as well as Congress, but hasn’t yet received any significant response.
This post was originally published on May 19, 2017, it was updated on October 5, 2017.