Department of Justice says marijuana bill is a violation of federal law

By Angela Chagnon

The Legislature passed a bill Thursday that would authorize marijuana dispensaries for “qualified patients”–those with “debilitating medical conditions” that meet certain requirements.

S.17 (http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2012/bills/Senate/S-017.pdf), titled “An act relating to licensing a nonprofit organization to dispense marijuana for therapeutic purposes”, authorizes four non-profit dispensaries to operate statewide. These dispensaries will only be allowed to serve a maximum of 1,000 patients and can issue up to two ounces of marijuana per month to each patient.

However, the Federal government is not supportive of the move. Tristram J. Coffin, a U.S. Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice for the District of Vermont, issued a letter to Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn on May 3.

The letter, written in response to a request from Deputy Commissioner Rosemary Gretkowski regarding the DOJ’s stand on S.17, states that “growing, distributing, and possessing marijuana in any capacity…is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws purporting to permit such activities.”

U.S. Attorney Coffin writes:

“The Department is concerned about the significant marijuana cultivation and manufacturing operation contemplated in S.17 as it would involve conduct contrary to federal law and threatens the federal government’s efforts to regulate the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of controlled substances.

Accordingly, the Department will carefully consider legal remedies against those who facilitate or operate marijuana dispensaries or marijuana distribution or production as contemplated by S.17, should that measure become law.”

Those who violate Federal law will face the consequences, Coffin warns:

“Potential actions the Department may consider include injunctive actions to prevent cultivation and distribution of marijuana and other associated violations of the CSA [Controlled Substances Act]; civil fines; criminal prosecution; and the forfeiture of any property used to facilitate a violation of the CSA.”

Coffin concludes the letter by stating that the DOJ “remains firmly committed to enforcing the CSA in all states.”

S.17 passed the House Thursday and Governor Shumlin has said that he will sign the legislation into law.