Recreational marijuana smokers in Washington and Colorado can breathe easier as representatives of the federal government stated today that they would not sue to stop the two states from allowing recreational marijuana use. The measures in Colorado and Washington conflict with federal law, but it seems the federal government will respect the wishes of the voters so long as certain demands are met.
In a joint phone call with governors John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Jay Inslee (D-WA), Attorney General Eric Holder said the Department of Justice will take a “trust but verify approach” to the state laws.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a three-and-a-half page memo to U.S. attorneys across the country outlining eight major priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing the new marijuana laws. According to the memo, the DOJ is trying to prevent the following:
- The distribution of marijuana to people under the age of 21
- Revenue of marijuana sales going to criminal enterprises and cartels
- Distribution of marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it is not
- State-authorized marijuana activity used as a cover for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other crimes
- Use of weapons or violence in the state-approved cultivation or sale of marijuana
- Driving while high on marijuana
- Growing marijuana on public lands
- Possession or use of marijuana on federal property
Any violation of these guidelines by an individual or entity will bring on federal prosecution. These regulations will also affect the 18 other states as well as Washington D.C. in regards to their medical cannabis laws. The DOJ will reserve the right to file a lawsuit against each state at a later time, as the regulation of marijuana remains illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.
When legalized, marijuana will be enforced similarly to alcohol. While the guidance outlined eight simple measures to enforce regulation, it could prove difficult to enforce some of these statutes. For instance, driving from a dry county to a wet county to obtain alcohol is a way of life in some states; why wouldn’t the same be true of marijuana? Coloradans drive to Wyoming to get fireworks for the Fourth of July, the same could prove true for residents of neighboring states looking to get some weed.
Governor Hickenlooper issued a statement this morning in reaction to his conversation with Holder.
“We recognize how difficult this issue has been for the Department of Justice and we appreciate the thoughtful approach it has taken. Amendment 64 put Colorado in conflict with federal law. Today’s announcement shows the federal government is respecting the will of Colorado voters.
The legalization of marijuana for recreational use is sure to attract national attention as the experiment plays out in Colorado and Washington. Marijuana could be commercially available in both states as early as Jan. 1, 2014.