WASHINGTON, D.C. (NBC) - In a move that has fanned a burning debate, the Obama Administration Monday ordered federal prosecutors to stop going after authorized marijuana sellers and users if they abide by state laws that legalize pot for medical use.
The Justice Department is saying this has been the new policy since the day President Obama took office. But now it's in writing and that's energizing both sides on the issue.
At the Capitol Hemp shop, 3 miles from the White House, owner-activist Adam Eidinger was overjoyed. It is kind of an exciting moment for everyone who's worked in medical cannabis for years," said Eidinger.
President Obama promised the change. On Monday it was formalized by his Justice Department.
In California, and about a dozen other states, where medical marijuana is legal, U.S. Attorneys will no longer target the sellers on federal drug charges.
The same is true for users of pot. If they're authorized under state law to smoke marijuana, to relieve nausea and improve appetite, the FBI and DEA will leave them alone.
Activists hope more states will okay pot for some patients. "If they don't respond well to conventional drugs or to surgeries then they should have a viable treatment," said NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre. "Particularly one that is non-toxic, very economically affordable and safe."
It's change from the policy under Presidents Bush and Clinton. Former drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, says legal pot sales are a front for recreational drug use.
"This is normalizing the sale of marijuana, immense criminal enterprises in violation of federal and state law," said McCaffrey.
Normalizing? Adam Eidinger hopes so. "Well, hopefully this will make medical cannabis more available to patients nationwide," said Eidinger.
So today, medical marijuana, maybe tomorrow legalization for anybody? "Well, I think the majority of Americans would be open to that right now," said Eidinger.