Breaking Down The DOJ’s ‘New’ Stance On Marijuana Enforcement

The Department of Justice has announced that it won’t sue marijuana-legal states… for now.
By @katierucke |
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    A boy displays his medical marijuana use at a rally in Civic Center Park, Denver, CO. on April 20, 2013. (Photo/Cannabis Destiny via Flickr)

    A boy displays his medical marijuana use at a rally in Civic Center Park, Denver, CO. on April 20, 2013. (Photo/Cannabis Destiny via Flickr)

    Updated Sept. 5, 2013

    Originally published Sept. 3, 2013

    Late last week, the U.S. Department of Justice answered the million dollar question lawmakers in Washington state and Colorado have been waiting for since the states legalized recreational marijuana last November: How would the federal government respond to the passage of the legalization legislation?

    In a press release, the DOJ announced that on Thursday morning Attorney General Eric Holder held a conference call with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee and informed the two that the DOJ had decided to defer its legal right to challenge the marijuana legalization laws and would not file a lawsuit against either state for failure to follow the laws under the federal Controlled Substance Act.

    Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning the U.S. government does not recognize a valid use of marijuana at any time — even for medical purposes. It believes marijuana is highly addictive, has a high potential for abuse and functions as a gateway drug.

    While Washington and Colorado are free to continue implementing state rules and regulations regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana, the press release doesn’t mention anything about how it will respond to states that have legalized medical marijuana, nor does it say anything about allowing residents in either state to use marijuana for either recreational or medical purposes.

    Though the Justice Department says it has no plans to legalize marijuana, the government entity said that marijuana will remain illegal under the Controlled Substances Act and “federal prosecutors will continue to aggressively enforce this statute.”

    After speaking with Holder, Hickenlooper released a statement thanking the federal government for respecting the will of Colorado voters.

    “We share with the federal government its priorities going forward,” he added, before explaining that state lawmakers “are working to improve education and prevention efforts directed at young people and on enforcement tools to prevent access to marijuana by those under 21 years of age.

    “We are also determined to keep marijuana businesses from being fronts for criminal enterprises or other illegal activity, and we are committed to preventing the exportation of marijuana out of Colorado while also enhancing efforts to keep state roads safer from impaired drivers.”

    Talking to Bloomberg, Inslee said the DOJ’s decision indicated the federal government trusts Washington and Colorado and said he would ensure that the Washington state government would implement a well-regulated system that would respect the federal Controlled Substances Act.

    Despite the Catch-22s riddled throughout the DOJ’s “official” stance on recreational marijuana use in Washington and Colorado, some marijuana advocates, such as Erik Altieri, the communications director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), called the response a “historic step forward.”

    Altieri said that “assuming the Department of Justice stays true to their word, these states and others will no doubt move forward with the state-licensed regulation of cannabis for adults. The public has evolved beyond the simplistic, failed policies of cannabis prohibition and are seeking pragmatic, regulatory alternatives. It is encouraging to see that the federal government no longer intends to stand in their way.”

    Dan Riffle is the director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization. He agreed with Altieri, saying, “We applaud the Department of Justice and other federal agencies for its thoughtful approach and sensible decision. It is time for the federal government to start working with state officials to develop enforcement policies that respect state voters, as well as federal interests. The next step is for Congress to act. We need to fix our nation’s broken marijuana laws and not just continue to work around them.”

    But not all marijuana advocates were convinced that the DOJ’s announcement was as much of a step forward as others claimed. This group pointed out that while the DOJ said it did not have plans to sue the two states that legalized recreational marijuana “at this time,” the government entity said nothing about states that had legalized medical marijuana and reserved the right to sue Washington and Colorado at a later date.

    Steph Sherer is the Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a medical marijuana advocacy group. She said that while the group was hopeful the DOJ would “adhere to these policies, our experience with the Obama Administration so far has been lots of double-talk.”

    She said that “In order to gain the trust of Americans, Obama’s U.S. Attorneys must stop their aggressive and unnecessary enforcement campaigns in medical marijuana states.”

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    • SteveSarich

      Why are all these idiots at NORML and MPP applauding this latest bit of entrapment by the DOJ? Could it be because they supported I-502, defended the Drug Czar’s new approach to prohibition….the 5ng/ml per se DUID? Could it be that they can’t read the last paragraph in the Cole Memo, which is conspicuously similar to that of the previous Ogden Memo….which was followed immediately by more raids on medical cannabis access points?

      Oh…we almost forgot…these organizations think medical is a “sham” and a “farce”, so it’s OK for the Feds to bust them, right? According to them, only recreational marijuana has legitimacy. Are these getting a monthly check from the DOJ to sell us all down the river? Does anyone really believe that the Feds said that they were going to turn a blind eye to recreational marijuana sales….after spending hundreds of million, just during the Obama administration, raiding medical cannabis growers and dispensers?

      Anyone who’s even considering sending these jerks at MPP and NORML so much as a dime, should have their heads examined.

      Washington has a tax of over 85% on recreational cannabis. These stores will never succeed, assuming we ever actually see them…which is looking less likely all the time….because no one is going to pay three times as much for marijuana as they do right now on the black market. So the store will go broke and the state will continue to go after the black market…and the war will go on….thanks to the big pot organizations that somehow thought that selling this as “legalization” would get them more hand-outs from recreational pot smokers.

      But what they’ve done is throw medical patients under the bus. They’ve made US the “enemy”…the “grey market”….the one’s who’ll “ruin things” for the state revenue plan. These are truly heartless bastards and anyone giving a dime to NORML or MPP should be ashamed of themselves. The state Liquor Control Board is calling medical marijuana the number one external threat to the recreational market and plans to end it within the next year….NORML and MPP are proud of this achievement?

      We now have hundreds of people in Washington State going to jail for impaired driving crimes they didn’t commit, and pot at three times what it is today, and no end to the “war on drugs”….and NORML is congratulating themselves and has their hand out again? I wouldn’t urinate on them if they were on fire!

      Steve Sarich
      Executive Director
      Cannabis Action Coalition

      • onebrownmouse

        Thank you for paying attention! yes–MPP, SAFER, Sensible, DPA, ASA, NORML, NCIA sold us down the river….years ago……MPP is responsible for all the MMJ or MJ language that has passed nationwide since, CA and DC passed MMJ in 1996 and 98. Why did they put such outrageous taxes on WA rec? Why did they only dercim in both CO and WA (when CO already had 2 ounces or less as decrim?) and then market them as ending prohibition? Why do you have to be on your death bed in VT and MA to ‘qualify’ for a toke of MMJ? Why do patients lose their right to grow their own if a ‘business’ opens within 25 square miles of their houses in AZ? Why did CO go from 4 pages of marijuana law on the books before ‘legalization’ to over 450 pages of prohibitions–after ‘legalization’. The 1%er’s control everyone of these corrupt entities. NO $ for any of them!

        • onebrownmouse

          note: CA and DC MMJ language was written by AIDS activists, the reason CA has the best–no state registry…. and once MPP and their ‘friends’ saw the grassroots movement had sufficiently educated people–they carpetbag the language in every other state as they have all the pro cannabis money under their control. And the language in every other state gets more repressive and Orwellian as they happen–more repressive-not less. Why can’tt NJ and AZ have food and tincture, Tears? Why did NORML create a non scientific 5 nano active THC limit on driving and bring it to a Democrat in Boulder?

          • SteveSarich

            Love to discuss some of these issues with you. Please drop me an email!

            Steve Sarich
            Cannabis Action Coalition

    • Charlie F

      It is going to be a fight. Big pharmaceutical companys pump a lot of money to politicians.

    • Justin Barnes

      That last paragraph is important.
      Obama has said that marijuana enforcement wouldn’t be his top priority…..
      yet the raids on farms and dispensaries continued……..
      lives continued to be destroyed and millions continue to die without the medicine they need to live….
      and the government & big pharma$ continue to insist that cannabis has no medical use……
      yet it cures cancer, epilepsy, aids/hiv, parkinsons, MS, diabetes ect. ect.
      I was as skeptical as anyone(even as a cannabis patient) that cannabis could deal with anything but symptoms of chronic disease……I was WRONG, DEAD WRONG.
      then a family member was diagnosed with metastisizing cancer…..
      in his Lymph system……..he NEVER got lymphoma though……
      because he got a prescription for medical cannabis and BEAT his cancer with HIGH content CBD cannabis oil (ingested with his food of course)….
      NOW we have doctors litigating against parents for trying to save their terminally ill children?
      when ALL THEIR standard toxic treatments have failed??
      they are the ones who should be sued and lose their licenses….or be locked up, in the case of going after parents, because they wont take standard treatments (that have failed)
      how dystopian can you get???

      • onebrownmouse

        Why do MPP and ASA act like anything changed with another memo? It says the feds retain their rights to arrest anyone for any reason. They (MPP and ASA) seem to set people up with misinformation every time
        the feds send out a memo–Congress or the Pres can just change the law
        if they really cared–but we get another memo.

        I read it as a notice to Colorado that they will be here soon, since Colorado certainly had a “robust” regulatory ‘model’–but the memo said it should be functional/operational, also. The CO DoR just got an F on their MMJ audit a few months ago. The audit said they failed to enforce their (Orwellian) rules and regs at all. And Denver’s MMJ audit was an F and just as embarrassing.

        And then there is the CDPHE audit – also an F — but the feds probably like that F because the CDPHE audit found that the CDPHE had failed to keep the Constitutionally protected MMJ patient registry private–as now the private MMJ registry computer is hooked up with the CBI criminal database…..the cops now have direct access to MMJ patients confidential info.

        Should be interesting year ahead….

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