House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said she is concerned that the Obama administration's crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries is hurting patients with a legitimate need for the drug.
The San Francisco congresswoman said in a statement Wednesday that the crackdown has undermined "a policy that has been in place under which the federal government did not pursue individuals whose actions complied with state laws providing for medicinal marijuana."
The crackdown was initiated last fall by federal prosecutors in California, Colorado and other states against landlords, growers and dispensary operators. Authorities believe laws that allow pot use with a doctor's recommendation are being used as a cover for drug trafficking.
The advocacy group Americans for Safe Access said its members had lobbied Pelosi to condemn the crackdown, which has resulted in the closure of hundreds of dispensaries throughout California. The Democratic parties of San Francisco and Alameda counties also have gone on record opposing the enforcement actions.
As a candidate, President Barack Obama said he would not use federal law enforcement resources to circumvent state medical marijuana laws. He told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview last week that he stood by that pledge.
"What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana," the president said. "I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana — and the reason is, because it's against federal law. I can't nullify congressional law."
As part of the crackdown, California's four U.S. attorneys notified dispensary landlords they could be violating federal drug laws by aiding trafficking enterprise and could lose their properties or face criminal prosecution. Many landlords subsequently evicted pot shop tenants.
In her statement, Pelosi did not call on the Obama administration to stop targeting dispensaries but said she supported revising federal laws to recognize the scientific evidence and clinical research demonstrating the medical benefits of medicinal marijuana.
"The opportunity to ease the suffering of people who are seriously ill or enduring difficult and painful therapies is an opportunity we must not ignore," she said.