Pubdate: Fri, 30 Aug 2013
Source: Buffalo News (NY)
Copyright: 2013 The Buffalo News
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Newspapers
Page: A7


WASHINGTON - In a ruling that gives new momentum to the national push
to legalize marijuana, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday that
it would not interfere with plans by the states of Washington and
Colorado to sell and tax pot for recreational use beginning next year.

The department made its long-awaited announcement in a memo to federal

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had been under growing pressure to
respond to the new state laws, since marijuana is still classified as
an illegal drug under federal law.

While pot opponents wanted Holder to sue the states to block them from
selling a banned substance, the Justice Department said it won't
bother, as long as the states police themselves well.

"Based on assurances that those states will impose an appropriately
strict regulatory system, the department has informed the governors of
both states that it is deferring its right to challenge their
legalization laws at this time," the department said.

Advocates of legalization cheered the move, calling it a historic step
toward ending marijuana prohibition across the United States.

While Washington and Colorado in November became the first states to
approve marijuana for recreational use, 20 states have approved
marijuana sales for medical purposes, with California going first in
1996. The Justice Department also indicated it would not take action
against those states.

Other states are expected to vote soon on recreational marijuana,
including Alaska in 2014 and California in 2016, lobbyists predict.

"This is the most heartening news to come out of Washington in a long,
long time," said Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement
Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officials opposed to
the war on drugs.

Holder displayed "inspired leadership" by allowing the two states to
proceed, Franklin said. "The message to the people of the other 48
states, to all who value personal freedom and responsible regulation,
is clear: Seize the day," he said.

Retired Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper said the move had the
potential "to be a major advancement in the history of drug reform"
and would put more marijuana business in the hands of legitimate
businesses and take it away from criminal organizations.

"For me, this means my fellow officers will be able to focus on their
real job of preventing and solving violent crime, increasing their
ability to do that job," he said.

Opponents of legalization said the move would lead to a flood of
negative consequences.

"We can look forward to more drugged driving accidents, more school
dropouts and poorer health outcomes as a new big marijuana industry
targeting kids and minorities emerges to fuel the flames," said
Patrick Kennedy, a former Democratic congressman from Rhode Island,
son of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and co-founder of Project SAM
(Smart Approaches to Marijuana), a national alliance that opposes

Kevin Sabet, Project SAM's director, called the announcement
disappointing but said it marks "only the first chapter in the long
story" on marijuana legalization.

"In many ways, this will quicken the realization among people that
more marijuana is never good for any community," he said.

In Washington State, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee called the move "good
news" and said it came in a call made directly by Holder. In a joint
statement issued with Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson,
Inslee said the two had assured Holder that the state would "remain
vigilant" in enforcing its marijuana laws.

The Justice Department said it expects the two states to prevent the
distribution of pot to minors, keep state-grown marijuana within their
borders and prevent any revenue from going to criminal enterprises,
such as gangs and cartels. The states also will be expected to crack
down on drugged driving, prevent the growing of marijuana on public
land and ensure that marijuana is not allowed on federal property,
among other concerns.
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