Pubdate: Fri, 30 Aug 2013
Source: Herald, The (Everett, WA)
Copyright: 2013 The Daily Herald Co.
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Washington Bureau
Page: A1


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 released
to federal prosecutors.

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

While opponents wanted Holder to sue the states to block them from
selling a banned substance, the Justice Department said that 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 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
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 in its announcement.

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 were the first to approve
marijuana for recreational use, 20 states - with California going
first in 1996 - have approved marijuana sales for medical purposes.
Others 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 had 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 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 and
cofounder of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), a national
alliance that opposes legalization.

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 Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Inslee
said the two had assured Holder that the state would "remain vigilant"
in enforcing its marijuana laws.

"We appreciate that the federal government will allow the voice of
Washingtonians to be heard on this issue," they said.

Dan Riffle, director

of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, a
pro-legalization group in Washington, D.C., said the department's move
"is a clear signal that states are free to determine their own
policies with respect to marijuana."

And with legislation pending on Capitol Hill to legalize marijuana
across the country, he added: "The next step is for Congress to act."

While Washington state and Colorado got the green light to proceed
with their plans, the Justice Department reminded prosecutors in its
memo that Congress has determined that marijuana is "a dangerous drug"
and that selling and distributing it remains a serious crime.

The department said it expects the two states to prevent the
distribution of pot to minors; to keep state-grown marijuana within
their borders; and to 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 lands and ensure that marijuana is not allowed on
federal property, among other concerns.

Holder acted as pressure intensified this week on Capitol Hill for him
to put an end to his long silence.
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