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On January 4, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum immediately rescinding the Obama Administration’s long-standing guidance limiting federal enforcement of medical marijuana. Federal law creates harsh penalties for the cultivation, distribution, and possession of marijuana, which Sessions deemed a “dangerous drug” and a “serious crime.” The memorandum places physicians and patients at risk of arrest and prosecution in 29 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized medical use of marijuana (eTable in the Supplement).

This Department of Justice (DOJ) guidance came at a time of increasing acceptance, accessibility, and use of cannabis and its derivatives. According to a 2015 nationwide survey, an estimated 22.2 million individuals in the United States aged 12 years or older reported cannabis use in the past 30 days; 90% said their primary use was recreational, with 10% solely for medical purposes; 36% reported mixed medical and recreational use. A 2017 national poll found that 61% of respondents support legalization of marijuana and 71% oppose federal enforcement. In 2016, an estimated 1.2 million adults accessed medicinal marijuana through state-licensed dispensaries or home cultivation.

Publication Citation

Lawrence O. Gostin, James G. Hodge, Jr. & Sarah A. Wetter, Enforcing Federal Drug Laws in States Where Medical Marijuana Is Lawful, 319 JAMA 1435-1436 (2018).