It took almost a year but Attorney General Eric Holder has finally taken a positionon the marijuana legalization laws that voters approved in Washington State and Colorado. Holder informed the governors of both states that the Department of Justices doesn’t intend to sue the state try to stop their new laws from being implemented, but reserves the right to take legal action in the future if cannabis regulations prove not to be strict enough.
The Obama administration plans to use a “trust but verify” approach.
While marijuana is still illegal under federal law, U.S. attorneys have been told to primarily focus on just eight priorities where state and federal law basically agree, like prohibiting the distribution to minors and drugged driving. From the DOJ:
For states such as Colorado and Washington that have enacted laws to authorize the production, distribution and possession of marijuana, the Department expects these states to establish strict regulatory schemes that protect the eight federal interests identified in the Department’s guidance. These schemes must be tough in practice, not just on paper, and include strong, state-based enforcement efforts, backed by adequate funding. Based on assurances that those states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system, the Department has informed the governors of both states that it is deferring its right to challenge their legalization laws at this time. But if any of the stated harms do materialize—either despite a strict regulatory scheme or because of the lack of one—federal prosecutors will act aggressively to bring individual prosecutions focused on federal enforcement priorities and the Department may challenge the regulatory scheme themselves in these states.
This is a very positive development but I also recommend taking a “trust but verify” approach with any administration’s announcement regarding marijuana policy. The administration previously promised a hands-off approach when it comes to medical marijuana but then took many controversial steps to impede the use and sale of medical marijuana.
For now this appears to be very good news, but I will withhold full judgment until I see it in practice.
Photo USDA, public domain