Following through on a sane drug policy

FOLLOWING THROUGH ON A SANE DRUG POLICY…. Literally just 48 hours after President Obama’s inauguration, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided a medical marijuana dispensary in northern California. The move was at odds with Obama’s policy, at least as it was articulated during the campaign, prompting questions about whether the White House would follow through on its stated goals.

We’ve seen considerable progress since. In February, Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that the Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana clubs legally established in states. The announcement fulfilled a campaign promise Obama made during the campaign.

Today, we see the next step towards a sane federal drug policy.

The Obama administration will not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws, under new policy guidelines to be sent to federal prosecutors Monday.

Two Justice Department officials described the new policy to The Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state laws.

The new policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.

Fourteen states allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

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: Glenn Greenwald called the Obama administration’s new policy guidelines “one of those rare instances of unadulterated good news from Washington.”