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Federal Government Will Not Sue To Stop Marijuana Legalization

The Department of Justice has decided not to challenge the Washington and Colorado legalization laws.  The memorandum from James M. Cole, Deputy Attorney General, “Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement,” describing their policy can be read here: John Ingold of the Denver Post reports:

The Justice Department official said prosecutors will expect states with liberalized marijuana laws to establish strict regulations to keep pot out of the hands of kids and to keep criminal groups from moving into the legal marijuana industry.

States will be expected to have active and effective enforcement efforts for the regulations, the official said. If they fall short, the official said, the Department of Justice may move to block the state laws.

The official cautioned that the guidance does not change federal law regarding marijuana. Cannabis will remain a Schedule I controlled substance — the most tightly regulated type of drug under federal law — and people who use, grow or sell marijuana remain at risk for federal prosecution.

The guidance lists eight federal priorities that prosecutors should consider when deciding whether to undertake a prosecution. They are:

• Preventing marijuana distribution to minors

• Preventing money from sales from going to criminal groups

• Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it is illegal

• Preventing criminal groups from using state laws as cover for trafficking of other illegal drugs

• Preventing violence and the use of illegal firearms

• Preventing drugged driving

• Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands

• Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property

The Justice Department official said, contrary to previous DOJ guidance, the size or profitability of legal marijuana businesses can no longer be the only factor in assessing whether they should be a target for prosecution.

The guidance was sent to U.S. attorneys in all 50 states on Thursday, the official said. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder briefed the governors of Colorado and Washington on the guidance in a phone call Thursday morning, the official said.

Two reports below on this breaking news . . .

U.S. Won’t Sue to Block State Marijuana Legalization

By Phil Mattingly & Alison Vekshin
Bloomberg News, August 29, 2013

In a memo to federal prosecutors around the country, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that, beyond the priority areas, “the federal government has traditionally relied on states and local law enforcement agencies to address marijuana activity” under their own laws.

Dan Riffle, federal policy director for the Marijuana Project, called the new guidelines “a major and historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition.”

“The next step is for Congress to act. We need to fix our nation’s broken marijuana laws and not just continue to work around them,” said Riffle, whose Washington, D.C.-based group is the nation’s largest advocating marijuana legalization.

Voters in Washington and Colorado last year approved ballot measures legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Growing, selling or possessing marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Criminal Activity

Officials in both states, as well as businesses associated with the growing and selling of marijuana, have been pressing theJustice Department to make a decision on what the federal government would do where recreational use has been legalized.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the Justice Department’s decision will allow the state’s voter-approved recreational marijuana law to be implemented.

“This reflects a balanced approach by the federal government that respects the states’ interests in implementing these laws and recognizes the federal government’s role in fighting illegal drugs and criminal activity,” they said in a joint statement released today.

The Justice Department’s approach “is a confirmation that the process can continue to move forward as planned,” Inslee and Ferguson said.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said the state shares the Justice Department’s enforcement priorities. The state is “determined to keep marijuana businesses from being fronts from criminal or other illegal activity,” Hickenlooper said in a statement.

New Rules

Washington and Colorado have been designing regulations for the cultivation and sale of recreational marijuana while the Obama administration formulated its position on the state laws.

The Justice Department maintains the ability to preempt the states, should they run afoul of the revised prosecutorial guidelines.

Federal prosecutors will work with both states to set up new regulations for the marijuana industry. U.S. attorneys nationwide will focus primarily on preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing transport of the drug from states where it is legal, as well as the drug’s use as a revenue stream for criminal organizations, according to the Justice Department.

To contact the reporters on this story: Phil Mattingly in Washington; Alison Vekshin in San Francisco at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at

Joint statement from Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson regarding update from Attorney General Eric Holder on implementation of Washington’s voter-approved marijuana law

“Today we received confirmation Washington’s voter-approved marijuana law will be implemented. We received good news this morning when Attorney General Eric Holder told the governor the federal government would not pre-empt Washington and Colorado as the states implement a highly regulated legalized market for marijuana.  Attorney General Holder made it clear the federal government will continue to enforce the federal Controlled Substance Act by focusing its enforcement on eight specific concerns, including the prevention of distribution to minors and the importance of keeping Washington-grown marijuana within our state’s borders. We share those concerns and are confident our state initiative will be implemented as planned.

“We want to thank the Attorney General for working with the states on this and for finding a way that allows our initiative to move forward while maintaining a commitment to fighting illegal drugs. This reflects a balanced approach by the federal government that respects the states’ interests in implementing these laws and recognizes the federal government’s role in fighting illegal drugs and criminal activity.

“Attorney General Holder also expressed a willingness to work with the states on a financial structure that would not run afoul of federal law. The news today is an affirmation of good work by the state Liquor Control Board as it has devised a responsible system of implementing our voter-approved law. We can assure the Attorney General that Washington state will remain vigilant in enforcing laws against the illicit marijuana market. Since voters approved Initiative 502 last year, the state has been working to implement it. Today’s announcement from Attorney General Holder is a confirmation that the process can continue to move forward as planned. We appreciate that the federal government will allow the voice of Washingtonians to be heard on this issue.”

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