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DOJ Says It Won’t Go After State Marijuana Laws for Recreational Use

On Thursday, the Obama administration said that it will not challenge the state laws that allow recreational use of marijuana. For those trying to decriminalize use of marijuana, this came as good news. The decision would now allow states to move up their processes for imposing state controls and limits on how marijuana is grown, distributed and sold, and to reduce the vulnerability of legal marijuana dealers when it comes to federal raids.

Critics are crying foul, and some believe this step would lead to a nation of pot users. Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation went on record saying, “I see it as a tsunami in the works.”

In a conference call on Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of both Washington and Colorado that if the DOJ found that the states did not properly create and implement appropriate regulatory systems, then the DOJ reserves its rights to challenge the laws. However, for now, the states have a go ahead to put systems in place that would be honored by federal authorities.

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John Hickenlooper, the Governor of Colorado said, the decision of the DOJ, “shows the federal government is respecting the will of Colorado voters.” Colorado aims to keep recreational marijuana use confined legally to those of and above the age of 21 years.

The DOJ sent a memo to federal prosecutors on Thursday reemphasizing that they should employ federal resources to pursue major criminal activity like drug trafficking, and not focus them on individual or personal drug use or abuse to an extent where major crimes go unpunished.

The “Memorandum for All United States Attorneys” on Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement mentioned “The guidance set forth herein applies to all federal enforcement activity, including civil enforcement and criminal investigations and prosecutions, concerning marijuana in all states.”

The guidance recognizes that “marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime … The Department of Justice is committed to enforcement of the CSA consistent with those determinations.”

However, the memo mentions, “The Department is also committed to using its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats in the most effective, consistent, and rational way. In furtherance of those objectives, as several states enacted laws relating to the use of marijuana for medical purposes, the Department in recent years has focused its efforts on certain enforcement priorities that are particularly important …”

The memo further reads significantly, “The enactment of state laws that endeavor to authorize marijuana production, distribution, and possession by establishing a regulatory scheme for these purposes affects this traditional joint federal-state approach to narcotics enforcement. The Department’s guidance in this memorandum rests on its expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health, and other law enforcement interests. A system adequate to that task must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice.”

Beyond the mumbo jumbo and legalese – this means if states create effective regulatory systems, federal authorities and prosecutors are not going to harass legal sellers and pot users, but go after illegal drug traffickers.

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