Pubdate: Fri, 06 Sep 2013
Source: Austin Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2013 Austin Chronicle Corp.
Author: Jordan Smith


Attorney General Declines to Act Against States Legalizing Marijuana

In an Aug. 29 letter to all U.S. attorneys, Deputy U.S. Attorney 
General James M. Cole said that the federal government will not - for 
now, at least - 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 "have also implemented 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, he wrote, the feds are happy to have state and local law 
enforcement police the system.

The Cole letter, bearing the authority of A.G. Eric Holder, comes 10 
months after voters in those states passed by hefty margins ballot 
initiatives that have legalized marijuana possession and use for 
adults, and have created regulated schemes for drug production, 
distribution, and sale. However, marijuana remains illegal under 
federal law, so reform advocates (and officials in Colorado and 
Washington) had been waiting since November to see 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 a December interview of President Barack Obama 
by Barbara Walters. The feds have "a lot to do when it comes to 
criminal prosecutions," Obama 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.

That's exactly the note Cole struck in his four-page memo, released 
last week. 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." Cole said the 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 other drugs, 
among a host of specifics included in the letter. "These priorities 
will continue to guide the Department's enforcement of the CSA 
[Controlled Substances Act] against marijuana-related conduct," Cole wrote.

Thus, federal authorities should "focus their enforcement resources 
and efforts, including prosecution, on persons or organizations 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 A.G. Cole distributed 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 
Controlled Substances Act, 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."
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