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U.S. Attorney General Won’t Challenge Marijuana Laws in Colorado and Washington State

U.S. Attorney Eric Holder

By Frederick H. Lowe

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent decision not to challenge Washington State’s and Colorado’s voter referendums allowing for recreational use of marijuana by adults has been met with sharp criticism from law-enforcement officials.

The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday, August, 29, told Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington and Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado that it was deferring its right to challenge their legalization of marijuana laws at this time, although marijuana remains an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act, and federal prosecutors will continue to aggressively enforce this statute.

The Justice Department said that it would prosecute individuals if they commit the following crimes:

  • Distributing marijuana to minors;
  • Moving revenues from the sale of marijuana to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
  • Diverting marijuana from a state where it is legal to a state where it is not legal;
  • Using state-authorized marijuana as a cover or pretext for trafficking;
  • Engaging in violence and/or the use firearms in the cultivation and/or the distribution of marijuana;
  • Driving under the influence of marijuana or causing other public health hazards while drugged;
  • Growing marijuana on public lands;
  • Using marijuana on federal property;

“Outside of these enforcement priorities, however, the federal government has traditionally relied on state and local authorizes to address marijuana activity through enforcement of their own narcotics laws. This guidance continues that policy,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Gov. Hickenlooper said, “We recognize how difficult this issue has been for the Department of Justice, and we appreciate the thoughtful approach it has taken. Amendment 64 (which allowed marijuana to be regulated similar to alcohol) put Colorado in conflict with federal law. Today’s announcement shows the federal government is respecting the will of Colorado voters.”

Gov. Inslee praised Holder for working with the states and for allowing them to move forward with their initiatives.

“This reflects a balanced approach by the federal government that respects the states’ interests in implementing these laws and recognizes the federal government’s role in fighting illegal drugs and criminal activity,” Inslee said.

Colorado and Washington voters passed laws in November 2012, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults.

The National Organization of Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) called the Justice Department’s decision a historic step forward.

“Assuming the Department of Justice stays true to its word, these states and others will no doubt move forward with the state-licensed regulation of cannabis for adults,” said Erik Altieri, communications director for NORML, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group for legalization of marijuana. “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.

Not everyone, however, is happy with Holder’s decision.

“The decision by the Department of Justice ignores the connections between marijuana use and violent crime, the potential trafficking problems that could be created across state and local boundaries as a result of legalization, and the potential economic and social costs that could be incurred,” seven national law-enforcement organizations wrote in a joint letter to Holder.

The organizations are miffed that Holder did not consult them before making his decision, and they charged that it probably will lead to a surge in crime.
In addition, Holder’s decision will encourage other states to legalize marijuana in “defiance to federal law,” the organization said.

The letter is signed by Major County Sheriff’s Association, the National Sheriff’s Association, Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, International Association of Police Chiefs, National Narcotic Officer Associations’ Coalition, the Police Executive Research Forum and Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Marijuana arrests play a starring role on unscripted-cable television programs like “Cops,” where most of the arrestees are young African-American men, whose faces are shown, although they have not been formally charged or  convicted of any crime. Most of the cops featured are white.

Fox Television Network recently dropped “Cops” after 25 years, following a petition drive by ColorOfChange, an online-black political organization. Spike TV, however, picked up the program.

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