Medical marijuana users face possible prosecution

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(Host) Monday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that users of medical marijuana can be federally prosecuted is being called an endorsement of the status quo in Vermont.

Vermont is one of ten states that have laws permitting the limited use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

VPR’s Neal Charnoff asked Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell about the ruling.

(Sorrell) “Well it doesn’t really change the situation in Vermont. We were saying in the Legislature right from the get-go that if Vermont was to follow the lead of the other state that have their own medical marijuana laws, that possession of marijuana for medical purposes would still be violative of federal law. And what the Supreme Court did today was say that the federal government does have a constitutional right to have regulation in this area of the possession and use of marijuana and the federal laws will stand. So we have a situation in Vermont and nine or ten other states in which people can – under state law – have marijuana legally but at the same time be violating federal law and potentially be subject to seizure of marijuana and prosecution under federal law.”

(Charnoff) “So essentially, Vermonters are okay with state but they could be in trouble with the feds.”

(Sorrell) “Exactly. The state would not be in a position to prosecute them for possession of marijuana for medical purposes as long as they met all the criteria under the Vermont law. But that very conduct could result in their being called before a federal judge, prosecuted, convicted of federal crime and sentenced accordingly. Now, that being said, it’s likely to be awhile before – if at all – before they’re prosecuting individual marijuana possessors in Vermont who have the marijuana for medicinal use of marijuana.”

(Charnoff) Do you think that a Vermonter who’s registered in the medical marijuana registry should be worried right now?

(Sorrell) “Absolutely. It’s up to federal authorities to enforce their own laws. But I would certainly be remiss if I told Vermonters who are operating under Vermont law and possessing and using marijuana for medicinal, ‘Don’t worry.’ I think they have to be concerned.”

(Host) Fourteen people have enrolled with Vermont’s Medical Marijuana Registry since it’s inception in October. The registry is operated by the state’s Department of Public Safety for people with certain debilitating medical conditions. Patients need to have their illnesses certified by doctors to qualify for the registry.

Monday’s ruling leaves unresolved the question: will federal authorities prosecute people who are in Vermont’s Medical Marijuana Registry?

David Kirby, the U.S. Attorney in Vermont, says he needs to study the decision before commenting on how it will specifically affect Vermonters. He says that in the past his office has rarely prosecuted for possession of very small quantities of marijuana, but it is illegal under federal law.

Kirby says – from his point of view – there’s no dilemma for Vermonters who are using marijuana for any purpose.

(Kirby) “It’s clearly against the law. So while the state might permit it, you know the state has no gun laws that say it’s illegal for a felon to possess a gun, for instance. But it is clearly against federal law. And I don’t think felons think they’re in a dilemma; they face clear sanction under federal law.”

(Host) Kirby says he expects that the Department of Justice will formulate a policy that will cover the whole system.

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