Department of Justice Steps Back From Marijuana Enforcement

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The United States Department of Justice issued a memorandum yesterday indicating that it will not stand in the way of states that want to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana as voters in Washington and Colorado did last fall, as long as there are effective controls to keep marijuana away from kids, the black market, and federal property.

DOJ reaffirmed that marijuana "remains an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act and ... federal prosecutors will continue to aggressively enforce this statute." However, DOJ noted that "the federal government has traditionally relied on state and local authorizes to address marijuana activity through enforcement of their own narcotics laws." In this vein, DOJ clarified that although it expects Colorado and Washington "to establish strict regulatory schemes that protect the eight federal interests identified in the Department's guidance," DOJ is itself "deferring its right to challenge their legalization laws at this time."

The import of this statement appears to be that absent certain "harms," federal prosecutors do not intend to "act aggressively to bring individual prosecutions focused on federal enforcement priorities." 

The federal guidance laid out eight federal law enforcement priorities that states need to protect if they want to authorize "marijuana-related conduct." They include keeping marijuana in-state, off the black market, and away from children; preventing violence and gun crimes related to marijuana distribution; and preventing drugged driving.

The DOJ noted that it simply doesn't have the resources to police all violations of federal marijuana law, and so it would focus on entities that threaten those priorities.

-- Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.


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