Melinda Haag: New marijuana guidelines won’t affect local cases

Jeff Chiu/ap file photo
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The “new” guidelines from the U.S. Attorney General’s office on how to enforce the federal ban on marijuana won’t change the local federal prosecutor’s approach to the drug, according to reports.

The U.S. Justice Department last week issued a long-awaited response to the marijuana legalization approved by voters last fall in Colorado and Washington. Rather than sue to overturn the laws, in a memo issued to all federal prosecutors in the country, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said that state-law abiding marijuana operations should not be an “enforcement priority.”

The memo was praised by drug war opponents and marijuana advocates as a major step forward for legalization and a policy reversal for Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama, who as a candidate for office said that sick people should be able to access marijuana.

But the memo will not change anything for U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, whose office since 2011 has closed about a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries in the Bay Area.

In comments to the East Bay Express, a Haag spokeswoman said that “for the most part it appears that the cases that have been brought in this district are already in compliance with the guidelines.”

“Therefore,” said Lili Arauzhaase, in comments to the newspaper, “we do not expect a significant change.”

None of the dispensaries shut down under pressure from Haag’s office – including eight in San Francisco, which were all licensed and regulated by the Department of Public Health – have been shown to be in violation of state or local law.

The state’s biggest dispensary, Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, is the subject of an asset forfeiture proceeding filed by Haag in July 2012.

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