Feds will let states go to pot if they follow a few rules regarding enforcement
SEATTLE — For generations, pot crusaders have called for an end to the nation's prohibition of marijuana, citing everything from what they say are the government's exaggerated claims about its dangers to the racial disparities in who gets busted for drug possession.
Now, they will get their chance in Colorado and Washington state to show that legalizing pot is better, less costly and more humane than the last 75 years of prohibition — all with the federal government's blessing.
In a sweeping new policy statement, the Justice Department said Thursday 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.
“It's nothing short of historic,” said Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project, which backed Colorado's new law. “It's a very big deal for the DOJ to say that if the states want to legalize marijuana, that's fine. Everybody in this movement should be thrilled.”
It won't just be the White House watching to make sure Washington and Colorado get it right. Voters in Oregon and Alaska could weigh marijuana legalization measures next year, and several states could face ballot questions in 2016, activists say.
Meanwhile, Latin and South American countries are considering pot reform, and the Obama administration's stance on Washington's and Colorado's laws could embolden them, said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which supported Washington's law. Uruguay has already approved plans to license marijuana growers and shops.
The DOJ's decision came nearly 10 months after the votes in Washington and Colorado, and officials in those states had been forging ahead to make rules for their new industries without knowing whether the federal government would sue to block sales from ever taking place on the grounds that they conflict with federal law.
Licensed, taxed marijuana sales in the two states are due to start next year, and officials have estimated they could raise tens or hundreds of millions of dollars for state coffers.
The administration's 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. If a state's enforcement efforts don't work, the feds could sue to block the state's entire pot-regulating scheme, Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote in a memo to all 94 U.S. attorneys around the country.
The priorities are similar to the factors the Justice Department has previously considered in determining whether to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pilot in Atlantic Ocean crash lost consciousness, Coast Guard says
- Texas appeals judge’s ruling on restrictive abortion law
- New heart drug seen as significant breakthrough
- Border Patrol agent opens fire on armed militia member in Texas
- ‘Lost’ IRS emails exist, government lawyers say
- Squashing stereotypes has women learning carpentry
- Revival of beer gardens in Milwaukee prompts other cities to consider it to shore up budgets
- Manatee status as ‘endangered’ draws complaints; classification under review
- California governor appeals ruling that struck down schoolteacher tenure
- Next hurdle for health care likely tax season
- Use of body cameras by police gain favor across nation