GAO Calls Out DOJ for Not Documenting Plan to Monitor Marijuana Legalization Outcomes

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Justice Department officials told investigators that they “they did not see a benefit” in documenting marijuana monitoring activities 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – February 1, 2016

Contact: Jeffrey Zinsmeister [email protected]

+1 (415) 680-3993

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Giving substance to the saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” the independent, nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report recommending the Department of Justice (DOJ) implement a specific plan for documenting the effects of state 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 lack of accountability of the marijuana industry has been astonishing.  From day one, they have put profits ahead of our health and safety,” remarked Patrick J. Kennedy, a SAM Honorary Advisor. “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.

“That’s why I applaud Senators Feinstein and Grassley for requesting this report, and thank GAO for its thorough work.  I hope it serves as a call to immediate action.”

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.

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.

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.”

For more information about marijuana use and its effects, see


About SAM

Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) is a nonpartisan, non-profit alliance of physicians, policy makers, prevention workers, treatment and recovery professionals, scientists, and other concerned citizens opposed to marijuana legalization who want health and scientific evidence to guide marijuana policies. SAM has affiliates in 31 states.



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