Pubdate: Fri, 30 Aug 2013
Source: Austin Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2013 Austin Chronicle Corp.
Author: Jordan Smith


In Two States Where Pot Is Now Legal, Feds Take Back Seat Approach

In a letter sent yesterday to all U.S. attorneys, Attorney General
Eric Holder said that the federal government will not - for now, at
least -s take legal action to challenge laws in Colorado and
Washington passed by voters last year that legalize and regulate the
use and sale of marijuana by adults.

As long as those states "implement strong and effective regulatory and
enforcement systems" that keep dope, and funds associated with its
trade, from diverting to the black market or to kids, the Department
of Justice is happy to have state and local law enforcement police the
system, he wrote.

The letter comes 10 months after voters in those states by hefty
margins passed ballot initiatives that have legalized marijuana
possession and use for adults and have created regulated schemes for
drug production, distribution, and sale. Despite the historic votes,
however, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. As such,
pot-law-reform advocates - and officials in Colorado and Washington -
had been waiting since November to see exactly how this new wrinkle in
the whole federal pot-prohibition scheme would unfold.

Early on there were signs that the feds might go this route -
evidenced in part by an interview President Barack Obama did with
Barbara Walters in December. The feds have "a lot to do when it comes
to criminal prosecutions," he told Walters, and going after
recreational tokers in states that have "already determined that it's
legal" for adults to use pot isn't exactly a top priority for federal
law enforcers.

Indeed, that's exactly the note Holder struck in his four-page memo,
released yesterday.

Although "Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug
and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious
crime that provides a significant source of revenue to large-scale
criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels," the feds are committed to
using "limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address
the most significant threats in the most effective, consistent, and
rational way." As such, Holder wrote that he federal government will
take a hands-off approach to pot-law enforcement in states that have
legalized its use so long as certain objectives are met - including
strict tracking of profits to ensure no money flows to drug cartels or
other gangs, preventing diversion of pot from states where it is legal
into those where it isn't, prohibiting the sale or marketing of pot to
minors, and preventing legal state-level pot activity from being used
as a cover for trafficking of other drugs, among a host of specifics
included in the letter. "These priorities will continue to guide the
Department's enforcement of the [Controlled Substances Act] against
marijuana-related conduct," Holder wrote.

Thus, federal authorities should "focus their enforcement resources
and efforts, including prosecution, on persons or organization whose
conduct interferes with any one or more of these priorities,
regardless of state law."

For the most part, pot-law reformers have embraced the news, but
remain cautious. Indeed, this hands-off message has come from the feds
before - notably after Obama took office and the DOJ in 2009 said it
would make policing pot in states that have legalized medical
marijuana a low-level priority. That promise was effectively reversed
in 2011, when Deputy Attorney General James Cole sent out a memo to
"clarify" that earlier position, concluding that persons "in the
business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those
who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the
[CSA], regardless of state law."

Nonetheless, Neill Franklin, a retired 34-year law enforcement veteran
who now serves as executive director of the drug-law reform group Law
Enforcement Against Prohibition, suggests that pot prohibition may
have turned a significant corner. "This is the most heartening news to
come out of Washington [D.C.] in a long, long time," he said in a
statement. "The federal government is not simply standing aside and
allowing the will of the people to prevail in these two states, the
attorney general and the Obama administration are exhibiting inspired
leadership. The message to the people of the other 48 states, to all
who value personal freedom and responsible regulation, is clear: Seize
the day."  
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D