The Obama administration has decided not to bring Colorado and Washington to trial for their legalization of recreational marijuana use in last November’s election. Attorney General Eric Holder infor Democratic Governors John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Jay Inslee of Washington on Thursday to inform them of the decision.
Holder promised these new guidelines during questioning in February, telling Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, “You’ll hear soon.” Nevertheless, under federal law, marijuana will remain an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The Justice Department reserves the right to bring suit against states that fail to measure up to the new regulations and to prosecute marijuana cases based on eight law enforcement areas:
• the distribution of marijuana to minors;
• revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
• the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form 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 marijuana
• drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
• growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands;
• marijuana possession or use on federal property.
Hickenlooper released a statement in response to the decision, emphasizing Colorado’s willingness to cooperate with the new guidelines, “Today’s announcement shows the federal government is respecting the will of Colorado voters.”
The new Justice Department guidelines apply to all fifty states and order federal prosecutors to focus on large-scale operations and those who sell to minors, not casual users. Owners of marijuana businesses may also be able to avoid federal prosecution provided that they follow the new guidelines. The new guidelines may also clear up regulations that made armored car companies, banks, and other business service providers timid about entering into business with marijuana-sector companies.
The move comes just two days after the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, invited Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to a Sept. 10 hearing titled “Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.” In a press release Sen. Leahy said,
“It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal,” and that, “I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government.”