The U.S. Justice Department announced it will allow Colorado and Washington to carry out their new recreational marijuana laws, according to Reuters. The department will focus enforcement on criminal charges in specific areas, such as distribution to minors.
The announcement ends almost a year of debate within the Obama Administration about how to react to the state laws, which allow personal possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for anyone at least 21 years old. They also permit marijuana to be sold and taxed at state-licensed stores. Federal law outlaws the production, possession and sale of marijuana.
“Today’s announcement demonstrates the sort of political vision and foresight from the White House we’ve been seeking for a long time,” Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the advocacy group the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. “I must admit, I was expecting a yellow light from the White House. But this light looks a lot more green-ish than I had hoped. The White House is basically saying to Washington and Colorado: Proceed with caution.”
In a memo to U.S. Attorneys, the Justice Department notes other enforcement priorities will include preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels; preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states; and preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity.
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Co-Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, said he disagreed with the Justice Department’s decision. “The Administration is now effectively instructing law enforcement not to prioritize the prosecution of the large-scale distribution and sale of marijuana in certain states,” he said in a statement. “This sends the wrong message to both law enforcement and violators of federal law. Apprehending and prosecuting illegal drug traffickers should always be a priority for the Department of Justice.”