DEA claims no guidelines on enforcing federal marijuana ban

Federal law still lists cannabis as a Schedule I drug alongside heroin and MDMA - so what are agents supposed to do in states where it’s legal?

Written by Beryl Lipton
Edited by Shawn Musgrave

While states have been steadily loosening marijuana regulations to allow medicinal and even recreational use, federal law still lists cannabis as a Schedule I drug alongside heroin and MDMA. Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana remains classified as a substance that “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

As the federal body tasked with enforcing the CSA, it would seem that the Drug Enforcement Agency might need to examine this tension between state and federal laws, as well as issue guidance to field agents in states where such tensions exist. But the DEA claims it has no such memos or training materials.

In February, MuckRock submitted a request for “training modules, policy guides and operational memos regarding enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in states that have legalized marijuana use.” To our surprise, the DEA has responded that they found no responsive documents.

Beyond being procedurally suspicious — abstractly, one would reasonably suppose that discrepancies between federal and state law would necessitate consideration of how to manage those differences — we know the determination to be factually incorrect. We are already in possession of one such relevant document.

In response to an earlier request for the agency’s parallel construction policies, the DEA provided training slides that veer into hashing out that federal investigators still consider marijuana a dangerous and illegal substance.

One such slide deck specifically poses the question, “Is DEA prohibited from enforcing the CSA?” and outlines that “DEA seeks to dismantle and/or disrupt the highest level of violators” rather than low-level individual users. [Read our post on these training materials here.] If DEA-approved training materials on a wholly separate topic includes such policy snippets, it stands to reason that DEA headquarters has additional materials dedicated specifically to CSA enforcement in an evolving legislative landscape.

Furthermore, these slides cite one October 2009 Department of Justice memo — rather specifically titled “Investigations and Prosecutions in States Authorizing the Medical Use of Marijuana.” The Justice Department has since issued two more memos, one in June 2011 and another in August 2013, that restate and clarify federal law enforcement objectives on marijuana in light of evolving state legislation. Presumably, the DEA would also have digested and disseminated DOJ guidance to its field agents, as well, even if it has not conducted a review of its own.

In light of documents already released, MuckRock appealed the adequacy of the DEA’s search on this FOIA request. After a lengthy process, this was their final response.


Image via Marijuana.com