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.