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Oct 19, 2009 11:10 PM by Andy Koen

Feds to leave medical marijuana users alone

The Obama administration has ordered federal prosecutors to stop pursuing medical marijuana users and sellers in states, like Colorado, that have legalized its use.  The new Justice Department guidelines say the US Attorneys will no longer target medical marijuana sellers on federal drug charges and only prosecute those who abuse the law.

El Paso County Assistant District Attorney Dan Zook says he's not too surprised by these new guidelines because they essentially put on paper what had been the practice since Obama took office.  The DA's office has taken a similar approach in determining how they will prosecute local medical marijuana cases.

However, Attorney General John Suthers isn't happy with this change because he says Colorado's laws aren't very clear about what is and isn't legal.

Suthers says Amendment 20 is very vague and ill-defined and adds that Colorado is now experiencing a proliferation of dispenseries and large grow operations that may not be constitutional.

"We don't know whether they're in violation of the constitution or not, and the federal government is saying unless we know it's in violation of Colorado law, we're not coming after it," Suthers said.

He believes the state legislature needs to better define Amendment 20 so that his office can better say to the US Attorneys what is and isn't legal.

Under the language of Amendment 20, marijuana patients are supposed to be given the drug under the supervision of a caregiver.  However, Zook says there have been cases involving medical marijuana distributors who have opened shop across the street from schools and nurseries. 

Other unintended consequences include house fires that have been caused by faulty wiring setups for home growing operations, and even murders over medical marijuana.

"We've had murders over marijuana for the first time really in many, many years," Zook said.  "It's becoming a big money drug and with that comes serious crime."

The language in the law only specifies glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and cancer patients as qualifying to receive the drug.  But Zook says, in reality, those patients only make up about 5 percent of all of Colorado's medical marijuana users.  The other 95 percent are being given the drug as a pain treatment.

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