GAO Critiques Justice Department for Allowing Failed Pot Experiment

Government Accountability Office Takes on DOJ for Failure

Today the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report recommending the Department of Justice (DOJ) implement a specific plan for documenting the effects of marijuana legalization.
The report, which Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) requested, states that DOJ has not “documented their monitoring process or provided specificity about key aspects of it[.]”  This lack of specificity includes missing information about “potential limitations of the data [DOJ officials] report using and how they will use the data to identify states that are not effectively protecting federal enforcement priorities.”

When asked about how DOJ is doing at tracking its priorities, the lead GAO author responded, “It’s hard to tell, because DOJ has not documented its plan for monitoring the effects of the state marijuana legalization.”   The Department of Justice has been allowing commercialized sales in the marijuana, beginning in 2014, including the very potent edibles.  Since December, 2012  for state of Washington, and January, 2013,  all penalties for the private growing, possession and consumption of marijuana have been removed, in opposition to federal law and international treaties.

State Drug Prevention Advocates Respond

Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) is a nonpartisan, non-profit alliance of physicians, policy makers, scientists, prevention professionals, treatment professionals and others who are opposed to marijuana legalization.   SAM –which has affiliates in 31 states — wants health and science to inform policy.  States that have legalized marijuana have experienced a plethora of problems.
From Washington State: “The DOJ’s failure to monitor has given free rein to the marijuana industry’s disregard for Washington State laws,” said Derek Franklin, president of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention.  “As a result, illegal, black market dispensaries and home delivery businesses are flourishing, and pot lobbyists are pushing to expand availability closer to schools and parks.  It’s a free-for-all.”
From Colorado: “Already, our state agencies are compromised because of their coziness with Big Marijuana. We’re unprepared to monitor outcomes on our own. This report confirms our worst fears that the Feds have been looking the other way while we have been dealing with the consequences,” said Jo McGuire, co-chair of Colorado SAM.

From Oregon: “Knowing that only lip service is being paid to our situation out here – which includes the new marijuana industry spending thousands of dollars on lobbying for rules that are beneficial to them – is more than just a little disheartening — it’s outrageous,” said Randy Philbrick, chair of SAM Oregon.


Former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy and tireless advocate for mental health care reform, said: “The lack of accountability of the marijuana industry has been astonishing.  From day one, they have put profits ahead of our health and safety.  They spend millions lobbying against regulations on advertising that targets children, and rules keeping pot shops away from schools and day care centers.  They flood the market with pot candies and sodas that poison children as young as five years old.” Kennedy is a co-founder and Honorary Advisor to Project SAM,  Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Highlights of the Report

The report also highlights unusual attitudes and behavior by DOJ officials concerning monitoring of the agency’s own priorities concerning marijuana, including that:
  • “[O]fficials reported that they did not see a benefit in DOJ documenting how it would monitor the effects of state marijuana legalization relative to the August 2013 [Office of the Deputy Attorney General] guidance,”
  • DOJ field offices “do not consistently enter information” in a “key source of information for monitoring,” thus ensuring that the database “would not provide reliable information regarding the extent of marijuana-related cases,” and
  • DEA and DOJ officials from California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington reported that they had not sent warning letters to owners and lien holders of medical marijuana dispensaries since DOJ issued August 2013 guidance on marijuana.