Advanced cancer sufferers, multiple sclerosis patients, those with AIDS and other chronically debilitating diseases who use state-sanctioned medical marijuana have one less thing to worry about: DEA agents raiding their stash. For years, patients such as Shayne Higgins of Burlington, who've sought relief from their medical ailments by puffing the herb have lived in fear of federal reprisal under the Controlled Substances Act, even when their state of residence legally allows its use. Higgins, who has advanced MS and was one of the first people to be listed on Vermont's Medical Marijuana Registry, is prevented from taking his meds in his home at Starr Farm Nursing Center because the facility's administrators fear losing their federal Medicaid funding.
But this afternoon, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced new guidelines for federal prosecutors who work in states such as Vermont that have sanctioned the use of medicinal ganja. In the interest of "making efficient and rational use of its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources," the DoJ called off the drug-sniffing hounds on individuals "whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."
Make no mistake: Recreational toking is still a no-no, and there's no indication that the Obama administration is floating this as first step toward ending that prohibition. Nor do these new guidelines expand the right to medicinal pot to anyone other than those outlined by each state legislature. In other words, claiming a headache, a hangover, a hangnail or a bad hair day still won't qualify you for a listing on the Vermont medical marijuana registry.