U.S.: Feds Approve State Marijuana Legalization: DoJ Will Allow CO, WA To Go Forward
Colorado and Washington to Establish Systems for State-Regulated Marijuana Retail Sales
By Steve Elliott
At a Thursday press briefing, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it will allow Colorado and Washington to move forward with implementation of laws establishing state-regulated systems of marijuana production and distribution.
Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of Washington and Colorado that the DoJ would "allow" the states to create a system of regulation implementing the ballot initiatives that legalized adult use of marijuana, reports Ryan Grim at The Huffington Post.
The directive will also apply to the 20 states that have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole also issued a three-and-a-half page memo to U.S. Attorneys.
"The Department's guidance in this memorandum rests on its expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health and other law enforcement interests," Cole's memo reads. "A system adequate to that task must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice."
The memo outlines eight priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing marijuana laws. According to the new guidance, DoJ will still prosecute individuals or entities to prevent:
• The distribution of cannabis to minors;
• Revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to "criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;"
• Diversion of cannabis from legal states to other states;
• State-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
• Violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of cannabis;
• Drugged driving and the "exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences" associated with marijuana use;
• Growing of cannabis on public lands;
• Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
“Today’s announcement is a major and historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
"The Department of Justice's decision to allow implementation of the laws in Colorado and Washington is a clear signal that states are free to determine their own policies with respect to marijuana," Riffle said.
“We applaud the Department of Justice and other federal agencies for its thoughtful approach and sensible decision," Riffle said. "It is time for the federal government to start working with state officials to develop enforcement policies that respect state voters, as well as federal interests.
"The next step is for Congress to act," Riffle said. "We need to fix our nation's broken marijuana laws and not just continue to work around them.”
"We are encouraged by today's response from the Obama administration," said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). "At the heart of the guidance is a willingness to respect the voters who have decided a regulated marijuana market is preferable to a criminal market in their states.
"Cannabis-related businesses in these states are creating thousands of jobs and generating tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue," Smith said. "These are clear public benefits.
"Now is not the time to push marijuana sales back under ground," Smith said. "The new voter-approved, regulated systems in Colorado and Washington should be allowed to proceed.
"We have full confidence the businesses in these states will comply with any requirements put forth by the Department of Justice," Smith said. "That is what they do. They comply with rules and provide a service to their customers and their communities.
"We are pleased to see the Obama administration will not cause harm to citizens and states by shutting these businesses down, and hope this will lead to an expansion of sensible policies related to marijuana such as allowing these businesses access to banking and taxing them at a fair rate," Smith said.
"Today's announcement demonstrates the sort of political vision and foresight from the White House we've been seeking for a long time," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "I must admit, I was expecting a yellow light from the White House. But this light looks a lot more green-ish than I had hoped.
"The White House is basically saying to Washington and Colorado: Proceed with caution," Nadelmann said.
"You know how you can tell if the state and the Feds are actually serious?" Washington state activist Steve Sarich of the Cannabis Action Coalition said. "Let's see if the state and the Feds stop using the HIDTA [High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area] grants to the cities and the medical states to use local and state law enforcement to enforce Federal law over state law.
"The state has been complicit in this," Sarich told Toke Signals. "The AG's office has signed these agreements to take these federal bribes to ignore state law.
"If you can still get raided by WESTNET, and charged Federally -- when you're not breaking state law -- they are simply jerking our chain again and hoping that we buy their new flavor of bullshit.
"The HIDTA grants must stop or we'll never have 'legal' medical or recreational in Washington," Sarich said.