The Department of Justice

US Department of Justice
United States Attorney
District of Hawaii

PJKK Federal Building
300 Ala Moana Blvd., Room 6-100
Honolulu, Hawaii 96850
(808)541-2958 (FAX)

April 12, 2011

Jodie F. Maesaka-Hirata, Director
Department of Public Safety
State of Hawaii
919 Ala Moana Boulevard, 4thFloor
Honolulu, Hawaii 96814

Re:  Senate Bill 1458 SD2, HD2

Dear Ms. Maesaka-Hirata:

This replies to your letter dated April 6, 2011, seeking guidance from the Attorney General and my office with regards to S.B. No. 1458, which if enacted, would establish in each County of this State for a five year test period at least one “medical marijuana compassion center” for the manufacture and distribution of marijuana. Under this bill, such marijuana distribution centers licensed by the State Department of Public Safety, would be authorized to sell marijuana within the respective counties in which they are located. In addition, the Bill also authorizes the sale of marijuana to other caregivers and non-resident patients visiting from other states. This letter is written to ensure there is no confusion regarding the Department of Justice’s view of such distribution centers.

As the Department has said on many prior occasions, Congress has determined that marijuana is a controlled substance. Congress placed marijuana is a controlled substance. Congress placed marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C §801 et. seq. (“CSA”) and as such, growing, distributing, and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as part of a Federally authorized research program, is a violation of Federal law regardless of state laws permitting such activities.

As a way of emphasizing the foregoing, the CSA’s penalties for felony marijuana offenses (manufacture, distribution, possession with intent to distribute) should be considered:

  • 1,000 or more marijuana plants, or 1,000 kilograms: 10 years–life imprisonment;
  • 100 or more marijuana plants, or 100 kilograms: 5–40 years imprisonment;
  • 50 marijuana plants or more, or more than 50 kilograms: up to 20 years imprisonment; and
  • Less than 50 marijuana plants, or less than 50 kilograms: up to 5 years imprisonment.

The prosecution of individuals and organizations involved in the trade of any illegal drugs and the disruption of drug trafficking organizations is a core priority of the Department. This core priority includes prosecutions of business enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana. Accordingly, while the Department does not focus its limited resources on seriously ill individuals who use marijuana as part of a medically recommended treatment regimen in compliance with state law, we maintain the authority to enforce the CSA vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity of controlled substances, including marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.

Consistent with federal law, the Department maintains the authority to pursue criminal or civil actions for any CSA violations whenever the Department determines that such legal action is warranted. This includes, but is not limited to, actions to enforce the criminal provisions of the CSA such as:

  • 21 U.S.C. §841 (making it illegal to manufacture, distribute, or possess with intent to distribute any controlled substance including marijuana);
  • 21 U.S.C. §856 (making it unlawful to knowingly open, lease, rent, maintain, or use property for the manufacturing, storing, or distribution of controlled substances);
  • 21 U.S.C. §860 (making it unlawful to distribute or manufacture controlled substances within 1,000 feet of schools, colleges, playgrounds, and public housing facilities, and within 100 feet of any youth centers, public swimming pools, and video arcade facilities);
  • 21 U.S.C. §843 (making it unlawful to use any communication facility to commit felony violations of the CSA); and
  • 21 U.S.C. §846 (making it illegal to conspire to commit any of the crimes set forth in the CSA).

In addition, Federal money laundering and related statutes which prohibit a variety of different types of financial activity involving the movement of drug proceeds may likewise be utilized. The Government may also pursue civil injunctions, and the forfeiture of drug proceeds, property traceable to such proceeds, and property used to facilitate drug violations.

This Bill would create a State licensing scheme which permits the marijuana distribution center in each county to support unlimited numbers of resident caregivers and patients and non-resident patients visiting from other states. As such, this scheme would authorize large-scale marijuana manufacture and sales, which is contrary to Federal law and threatens the Federal government’s efforts to regulate the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of controlled substances. Accordingly, the Department is carefully considering civil and criminal legal remedies if this Bill is enacted and becomes law, with respect to those who seek to create such marijuana distribution centers pursuant thereto. Individuals who elect to operate such marijuana centers will be doing so in violation of Federal law. Others who knowingly facilitate and assist the actions of the licensees (including property owners, landlords, and financiers) should also know that their conduct violates Federal law. Potential actions the Department may consider include injunctive actions to prevent cultivation and distribution of marijuana and other associated violations of the CSA; civil fines; criminal prosecution; and the forfeiture of any property used to facilitate a violation of the CSA. As the Attorney General has repeatedly stated, the Department of Justice remains firmly committed to enforcing the CSA in all states.

I hope this letter assists the State of Hawaii and potential licensees in making informed decisions regarding the cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of marijuana.

Very truly yours,
/s/ Florence T. Nakakuni
Florence T. Nakakuni
United States Attorney



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