Pubdate: Wed, 27 Feb 2013
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2013 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: David Sherfinski
Page: A6


Conflict With Federal Law at Issue

U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Tuesday that federal 
guidance on new laws legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington 
state is imminent as state officials have been forced to tread 
cautiously in their efforts to implement the laws.

Mr. Holder, speaking at a meeting of the National Association of 
Attorneys General in Washington, said the Justice Department was in 
its final stages of reviewing the initiatives and their policy 
implications and that the answer would come "relatively soon."

"I would say, and I mean this, that you'll hear soon," he said after 
being asked about it by Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers, a 

It will be a long time coming for Mr. Suthers, who, along with 
Democratic Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, said he asked Mr. Holder on the 
Friday after Election Day whether they could have clarification by 
Jan. 10, or the start of the state's legislative session.

Voters approved November ballot initiatives in both states to 
legalize the possession and sale of small amounts of marijuana for 
recreational purposes. But the use of the drug still violates the 
federal Controlled Substances Act - a contradiction that has left 
officials begging for guidance.

"Well gosh darn it, the federal government's always there when you 
don't need them, and they don't show up when you do need them," Mr. 
Suthers said earlier Tuesday in a wide-ranging discussion with 
reporters and editors at The Washington Times. "This is a perfect 
example of it. Because if you're going to be assertive and aggressive 
then we're going to tell the legislature one thing. If you're going 
to say, 'whatever you want to do,' that's another thing."

Both Mr. Hickenlooper and Mr. Suthers opposed the legalization effort 
in Colorado. States are worried they could be sued by the federal 
government, depending on how it chooses to interpret, enforce and 
prosecute the law - and signals have been mixed over the past few years.

A 2009 memo, issued by U.S. Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden, 
reminded federal prosecutors that "no state can authorize violations 
of federal law" while also advising U.S. attorneys not to target 
individuals acting in compliance "with existing state laws providing 
for the medical use of marijuana."

But last summer, the Justice Department appeared to shift course in a 
letter to U.S. attorneys that signaled they should not acquiesce to 
those who cultivate or sell marijuana.

Marijuana has been legalized for limited medical use in 18 states, as 
well as the District of Columbia, where applicants had to sign 
waivers releasing the city from liability if the federal government 
prosecuted the program's participants. To proponents of medical 
marijuana, the Justice Department's letter served as a reminder of 
the tenuous relationship between local and federal views on medicinal 
marijuana use.

But Mr. Suthers speculated that the new guidance would hew more to 
the Ogden memo and let the states have the latitude to enforce their 
laws even if they conflict with federal law.

"But we're moving ahead - we've got a task force that's making all 
kinds of recommendations as to how we implement this," he said. 
"Everybody's waiting to see what the feds are going to say."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom