Saturday, May 28, 2011

Federal Warnings Hit Medical Pot Boom [NPR]

From California to Arizona, Colorado to Maine, states across the country are legalizing the sale of medical marijuana. Recent warnings from U.S. attorneys, however, are making local governments rethink their plans.

Seth Bock stands in what's supposed to be one of Rhode Island's first medical marijuana stores. His group was going to install grow lights and a ventilation system this week, but not anymore.

"We can't really invest any money into the carpentry and the building process until we know that this will go on," he says.

But that could take a while. Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee has put the program on hold indefinitely. The reason: a letter he received from the U.S. Attorneys' Office that said Rhode Island's so-called compassion centers could face federal raids, fines or criminal prosecution if they open.

"The U.S. attorney was very direct," governor's spokesman Michael Trainor says. "The governor believes that if we proceed on the present course, he'd be putting the compassion centers and people associated with compassion centers at great risk."

Rhode Island's letter is similar to those sent to at least eight other states with medical marijuana programs. Advocates believe the threats are a dramatic change from the Obama administration's original stance on medical marijuana. The Justice Department has refused to clarify its decision, saying only that its policy remains the same. It says the U.S. attorneys assigned to each state have "discretion" about how to enforce that policy.

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