Las Vegas Marijuana Defense Lawyer: Time for President Obama to Move on Widespread Marijuana Legalization

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In an interview with ABC News, President Barack Obama said that he did not "at this point" support legalization of marijuana, but said there should be middle ground and said targeting marijuana users would not be a priority. Las Vegas marijuana lawyer Joel Mann says that, in light of contradicting state laws on marijuana, including in Nevada, it's time for the federal government to get out of the War on Drugs.

"The federal government should respect the will of voters and the states' powers to determine their own destiny on drug policy," said Joel Mann, Las Vegas marijuana defense lawyer.

Immediately following his re-election in 2012, President Barack Obama said the government would not prioritize enforcement of federal marijuana laws. "We've got bigger fish to fry," he said to ABC News in December, adding that while he does not support widespread legalization of marijuana "at this point," shifting public opinion and limited government resources may dictate finding a middle ground.

However, since then, federal agents have continued to raid dispensaries run legally under state law, including three on the West Coast last week, according to The Sun ("DEA, police raid three medical marijuana dispensaries plus home in San Bernardino," Feb. 6, 2013). It's time for the President to evolve and stop the assault on states like Nevada that have legalized marijuana, said Joel Mann, Las Vegas drug charges lawyer.

"The President is right to be reconsidering federal drug policy, and the logical place for this thought process to go is to cease federal prosecution of marijuana laws entirely," Mann said. "The President's remarks on ballot initiatives in Washington and Colorado legalizing marijuana indicated that some sort of evolution might be happening. We have yet to see any real policy or enforcement shift on the issue, though. People running dispensaries in Nevada are still under danger of prosecution by the federal government and face arrest by federal agents."

Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has high potential for abuse and no recognized medical use — despite study after study showing cannabis' efficacy in pain management with ailments like glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. The Act makes the possession, distribution and trafficking of marijuana illegal.

However, 18 states, including Nevada, have legalized the possession of cannabis for medical purposes, most by voter initiative or referendum. Voters passed Nevada's law, for example, with 65 percent of the vote in 2000. Last November, Colorado and Washington passed new state laws making marijuana legal for recreational use, the first such U.S. laws in the modern era.
The conflict, however, between state law and federal law has caused a rift in which the federal government has had the upper hand so far, Mann said. The federal government has prosecuted those acting legally under state law. Dispensaries, where people seeking legal cannabis may obtain it, have been particularly prone to arrest and prosecution, including many dispensaries in the Las Vegas area. Dispensary owners continue to be prosecuted across the country.

Obama said this disparity has created a "murky area" in the law. Mann, however, said that any ambiguity can easily be cleared: The federal government can stop prosecuting those lawfully obtaining and using marijuana under state law.

"The decision of what substances should and will be prohibited is better left to the states," said Mann, Las Vegas marijuana lawyer. "Voters in Nevada and 17 other states have decided that cannabis, a natural substance with negligible physiological dangers and significant medicinal purposes, does not warrant prohibition for medical purposes. States other than Colorado and Washington, including Nevada, may decide possession or sale of marijuana does not merit criminal prosecution for recreational purposes.'

"The federal government should respect the will of voters and the states' powers to determine their own destiny on drug policy," Mann said.

The political momentum is there for ceasing marijuana prosecution, Mann said. In a December Gallup poll, 64 percent of those polled said the federal government should not make efforts to enforce federal marijuana prohibition laws in states where voters decided to legalize. Petitions on the White House's official website to halt federal marijuana prosecution reached nearly seven times the threshold of signatures necessary to warrant a response, prompting Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske to post a letter pointing to the President's ABC News interview Jan. 8.

In the interview, Obama said he remains opposed to pot legalization, but left the door opening for further consideration.

"There is nothing wrong with carefully reviewing policy and, upon reflection, changing your position," Mann said. "Taking into consideration the grotesque failure of the so-called War on Drugs, the President certainly has adequate evidence to show federal policy on drugs, like marijuana, has failed, and it's time to allow states to determine their own laws on controlled substances."

Joel Mann is a Las Vegas criminal defense attorney who defends those accused of drug charges, including possession, distribution and trafficking. He also represents clients accused of DUI, solicitation or other criminal charges.

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