U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in 2009 he would stop prosecutions of medical marijuana in states where it is legal. That order was muddled by a second memo from his deputy David Ogden, who said the feds would prosecute growers and sellers who go big.

Since that time, U.S. Attorneys in several states have issued letters seeking to dissuade states from enacting and implementing medical marijuana laws through threats of prosecution. The primary memo, issued by Deputy U.S. Attorney General James M. Cole, claims it reiterates a 2009 Department of Justice (DOJ) memo issued by then Deputy Attorney General David Ogden stating that federal drug enforcement resources should not focus on people “whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the use of medical marijuana.” But Cole’s memo made clear that the only people for whom federal prosecution will be de-prioritized are patients and that everyone else involved in a rational and carefully calibrated system of state regulation is vulnerable to federal prosecution.

In Nevada, the problem is that our laws are not serving our registered patients. As I wrote in a recent blog, even the courts in Nevada are recognizing that our laws are confusing at best. To boot, medical patients in Nevada have consistently turned to the black market for their medicine for a variety of reasons (including lack of experience growing the plant, lack of financial resources for the investment required to grow, or failure to produce the yield necessary for consistent personal supply are some of the most common reasons).

To serve this demand, “compassion centers” or non-profit distribution centers for patients have cropped up in Las Vegas. But because they are not expressly allowed by statute to serve patients, almost all of these centers have been raided. Unfortunately, this gives law enforcement the fuel they “need” for the failed drug war and increased criminal sanctions. In fact, these centers and the growhouses that supply them were cited by law enforcement this past legislative session in their testimony on a bill that would have increased penalties for growing marijuana plants over the 7 allotted for registered patients.

All is not lost, however. A new Gallup poll shows that over 50% of Americans now say that marijuana use should be legal, an increase of 4% from last year. “Liberals and those 18 to 29 are most likely to favor legalizing marijuana, while conservatives, Republicans, and those 65 and older are most likely to be opposed.” Cato Institute’s research on drug policies is getting to the heart of libertarian minds. And fights against per se intoxication standards (which Nevada unfortunately instituted approximately 20 years ago) have prevailed in places like Colorado. We hope to see positive movement in our own state in the near future as well.