Atty. Gen. Eric Holder informed the governors of Washington and Colorado Thursday that the Department of Justice will allow the states to implement ballot initiatives that legalized the production, distribution, and sale of marijuana for adults.
Deputy Atty. Gen. James Cole also issued a memo to U.S. attorneys across the country outlining priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing marijuana laws. The directive will also apply to the 20 states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
"Today's announcement demonstrates the sort of political vision and foresight from the White House we've been seeking for a long time," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
"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."
The memo notes that state regulation may further federal interests by reducing organized crime and making marijuana less available to youth.
The Department of Justice left the door open to reverse course, however, by reserving its right to file a preemption lawsuit in the future, since marijuana remains illegal federally under the Controlled Substances Act.
According to the guidance, DOJ will still prosecute individuals or entities to prevent:
• Distribution of marijuana to minors;
• Revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
• Diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
• State-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
• Violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana, drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
• Growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands;
• Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.