UPDATE: Feds won't crack down on marijuana in Colorado, Washington


Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh.
  • Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh.
UPDATE: We just heard back from Colorado U.S. Attorney spokesman Jeff Dorschner, via voicemail. 

On how long the office has known about the decision, and what Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh thinks of it:

"We do know that the [Justice] Department generally took a long, thorough look at what the policy should be, but, generally, we don’t discuss internal deliberations. So, that is not a question I can answer."

On what will happen if Colorado's regulatory system is deemed insufficient to protect the listed federal priorities:

"Regarding Colorado’s regulatory system, if it’s deemed insufficient, I’m going to refer you back to Deputy Attorney General Cole’s memo. Not quoting me, but quoting the memo, he states essentially that the department would consider pursuing some kind of litigation. But, again, that is quoting the memo."

On what changes, if any, this will bring for the Colorado office, which has generally held a less zealous attitude towards marijuana indictments than federal prosecutors in California and Montana:

"We have continually enforced marijuana laws over the past two years or more; we have continued to prosecute those who have trafficked in marijuana. And now we have additional guidance that outlines our federal interests and we’re gonna follow that guidance as we followed the earlier Cole guidance, as well as the earlier Ogden guidance. And in addition to individual criminal prosecutions, we are going to continue the special initiatives, such as the school safety.

"But, in general, I think the response is: We are continuing to prosecute large-scale drug traffickers, consistent with the Ogden and Cole memos. And so, inasmuch as that is consistent with what we’ve been doing in the past, I think there’s not going to be a substantial change."

——— ORIGINAL POST: Thursday, Aug. 29, 1:44 P.M. ———

Today, in what may come to be known as "the second Cole memo," Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a historic letter to the country's U.S. attorneys telling them, in effect, that the Department of Justice will not be suing the states of Washington and Colorado to block their marijuana-legalization laws.

Also, Justice officials should limit their interest in legal marijuana to certain areas, as stated in the memo. They include preventing:

• distribution of marijuana to minors;
• revenue from the sale of marijuana going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
• diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
• state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity; 
• violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
• drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
• the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
• marijuana possession or use on federal property.

"The key federal interests set forth in that guidance are also key interests of the people of Colorado," says Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh in a prepared statement. "In addition, because the Department of Justice’s guidance emphasizes the central importance of strong and effective state marijuana regulatory systems, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to focus on whether Colorado’s system, when it is implemented, has the resources and tools necessary to protect those key federal public safety interests."

We've followed up a few questions for Walsh's spokesman and will update this blog when we hear back, but here's more from Cole about the need for regulation:

"The enactment of state laws that endeavor to authorize marijuana production, distribution, and possession by establishing a regulatory scheme for these purposes affect this traditional joint federal-state approach to narcotics enforcement," he writes in the letter. "The Department's guidance in this memorandum rests on its expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health, and other law enforcement interests."

Here are some reactions from around the country, as delivered to our inbox:

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers:

“The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) contacted Governor John Hickenlooper and me this morning to inform us of the position they are taking with regard to Colorado having legalized marijuana at the state level. The position taken by DOJ is very much along the lines I anticipated and I remain mystified as to why it took so long to articulate it. Clarification of the federal position, however, is nevertheless welcome. Colorado state government will continue to develop a regulatory scheme that is as effective as possible under the dictates of Amendment 64 with recognition that the federal government will take action if the state regulatory scheme does not deter activity that runs afoul of federal enforcement priorities.

"The eight criteria set forth for future federal prosecutions of marijuana in Colorado will give state and local law enforcement officials a basis for discussion with federal law enforcement officials about prosecuting those who abuse Colorado’s marijuana regulatory system.”

Marijuana Policy Project's Dan Riffle:

“Today’s announcement is a major and historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition. The Department of Justice's decision to allow implementation of the laws in Colorado and Washington is a clear signal that states are free to determine their own policies with respect to marijuana."

Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell:

"It's significant that U.S. attorneys will no longer be able to use the size or profitability of a legal marijuana business to determine whether or not it should be a target for prosecution, but the guidelines seem to leave some leeway for the feds to continue making it hard for state-legal marijuana providers to do business. ...

"In all, today's announcement represents a step in a right direction and a recognition by the administration that the politics of marijuana are rapidly shifting in favor of those who support legalization. However, my optimism is tempered by the fact that despite the Justice Department's 2009 announcement that it shouldn't be a priority to bust medical marijuana providers operating in accordance with state law, this administration went on to close down more state-legal marijuana businesses in one term than the Bush administration did in two terms."

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition's Neill Franklin:

"With Eric Holder's recent speech outlining the social harms from mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, is there really another option? The people of Colorado and Washington state have voted and it's now time for our elected leaders and others to honor those ballots. It would be wise for our leaders on Capitol Hill to act accordingly and move this country toward a more humane and sensible drug policy."

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