Paging Willie Nelson…

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Chris Good at The Atlantic:

The Department of Justice will distribute new guidelines to federal prosecutors today advising that it’s not a good use of their time to prosecute medical marijuana users and distributors in states where medical marijuana is legal, as long as they’re following state laws. It’s been understood since before the election that President Obama intended to stop raids on medical marijuana users, and, with the exception of a few raids conducted in LA before the new leadership had gotten settled at the Department of Justice, that’s been the effective policy so far.

Nick Gillespie at Reason:

The devil is in the details, of course, and how the policy is enforced (or not). But it represents the most compassionate and sensible policy to come out of Washington in a very long time.

Peter Suderman at Reason:

And it looks to me like it still leaves significant leeway for federal drug enforcers to make choices about what they’ll pursue:

“The memo, the officials said, emphasizes that prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, and says it is not a good use of federal manpower to prosecute those who are without a doubt in compliance with state law.”

In other words, owners of pot dispensaries shouldn’t necessarily expect a break; if authorities decide to target dispensaries, then these new guidelines won’t provide any cover.

But by suggesting, however tacitly, that maybe drug cops might have better things to do than raid medical marijuana clinics, it looks to me like a teensy, tiny, step toward a saner drug policy.

Ann Althouse:

Obama legalizes marijuana.

As long as you live in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont or Washington and have a sympathetic doctor and — what? — a headache?

Meanwhile, if you don’t live in one of those places and/or you don’t want to dissemble about why you want to use marijuana, you’ll have to wait longer for the pleasures you assumed would have to be legalized as soon as the people who were young in the 1960s got old enough to fully infiltrate the government.

Glenn Greenwald:

The Obama administration deserves major credit not only for ceasing this practice, but for memorializing it formally in writing.  Just as is true for Jim Webb’s brave crusade to radically revise the nation’s criminal justice and drug laws, there is little political gain — and some political risk — in adopting a policy that can be depicted as “soft on drugs” or even “pro-marijuana.”  It’s a change that has concrete benefits for many people who are sick and for those who provide them with treatments that benefit them.  So credit where it’s due to the Obama DOJ, for fulfilling a long-standing commitment on this issue.

Beyond the tangible benefits to patients and providers, there is the issue of states’ right.  Fourteen states have legalized medical marijuana, many by referendum.  The Bush administration’s refusal to honor or even recognize those states’ decisions — by arresting people for doing things which are perfectly legal under state law — was one of many examples giving the lie to the conservative movement’s alleged belief in federalism and limited federal power (see here, for instance, how John Ashcroft and GOP Senators tried deceitfully and undemocratically to exploit the aftermath of 9/11 to prevent Oregon from implementing its assisted suicide law).  Constitutionally and otherwise, what possible justification is there for federalizing decisions about whether individuals can use marijuana for medical purposes?  Ironically (given the “socialism” and “fascism” rhetoric spewed at it by the Fox News faction), the Obama administration’s decision is a major advancement for the rights of states to have their laws respected by the federal government.

John Cole:

I think the most important part of Glenn’s piece is the recognition of how out of touch our policies are with the rest of the world. It is going to be hard to keep a very profitable and lucrative drug war going, what with all those nice property seizures for government agencies, when no one else in latin and central america wants to be as crazy as we are about marijuana.

Steve Benen:

There’s often a sense that those states that have approved medicinal use of marijuana have been free from DEA crackdowns. That hasn’t been the case at all — throughout the Bush era, federal authorities ignored the states’-rights argument and went after state-authorized marijuana distributors, on the argument that federal law trumped state law.

Under Obama, federal law still trumps state law, but authorities will simply shift its priorities — in states where use and distribution of marijuana is legal, the administration will put their law enforcement energies elsewhere.

UPDATE: Jonathan Adler

UPDATE #2: Michelle Malkin

Ed Morrissey

Joseph Lawler at American Spectator

Tim Lynch at Cato

UPDATE #3: Mark Kleiman

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