Colorado and Washington to Establish Systems for State-Regulated Marijuana Retail Sales
At a Thursday press briefing, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it will allow Colorado and Washington to move forward with implementation of laws establishing state-regulated systems of marijuana production and distribution.
Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of Washington and Colorado that the DoJ would “allow” the states to create a system of regulation implementing the ballot initiatives that legalized adult use of marijuana, reports Ryan Grim at The Huffington Post.
The directive will also apply to the 20 states that have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole also issued a three-and-a-half page memo to U.S. Attorneys.
“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,” Cole’s memo reads. “A system adequate to that task must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice.”
The memo outlines eight priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing marijuana laws. According to the new guidance, DoJ will still prosecute individuals or entities to prevent:
• The distribution of cannabis to minors;
• Revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to “criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;”
• Diversion of cannabis from legal states 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 cannabis;
• Drugged driving and the “exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences” associated with marijuana use;
• Growing of cannabis on public lands;
• Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
“Today’s announcement is a major and historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
“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,” Riffle said.
“We applaud the Department of Justice and other federal agencies for its thoughtful approach and sensible decision,” Riffle said. “It is time for the federal government to start working with state officials to develop enforcement policies that respect state voters, as well as federal interests.
“The next step is for Congress to act,” Riffle said. “We need to fix our nation’s broken marijuana laws and not just continue to work around them.”
“We are encouraged by today’s response from the Obama administration,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). “At the heart of the guidance is a willingness to respect the voters who have decided a regulated marijuana market is preferable to a criminal market in their states.
“Cannabis-related businesses in these states are creating thousands of jobs and generating tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue,” Smith said. “These are clear public benefits.
“Now is not the time to push marijuana sales back under ground,” Smith said. “The new voter-approved, regulated systems in Colorado and Washington should be allowed to proceed.
“We have full confidence the businesses in these states will comply with any requirements put forth by the Department of Justice,” Smith said. “That is what they do. They comply with rules and provide a service to their customers and their communities.
“We are pleased to see the Obama administration will not cause harm to citizens and states by shutting these businesses down, and hope this will lead to an expansion of sensible policies related to marijuana such as allowing these businesses access to banking and taxing them at a fair rate,” Smith said.
“Today’s announcement demonstrates the sort of political vision and foresight from the White House we’ve been seeking for a long time,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “I must admit, I was expecting a yellow light from the White House. But this light looks a lot more green-ish than I had hoped.
“The White House is basically saying to Washington and Colorado: Proceed with caution,” Nadelmann said.
“You know how you can tell if the state and the Feds are actually serious?” Washington state activist Steve Sarich of the Cannabis Action Coalition said. “Let’s see if the state and the Feds stop using the HIDTA [High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area] grants to the cities and the medical states to use local and state law enforcement to enforce Federal law over state law.
“The state has been complicit in this,” Sarich told Toke Signals. “The AG’s office has signed these agreements to take these federal bribes to ignore state law.
“If you can still get raided by WESTNET, and charged Federally — when you’re not breaking state law — they are simply jerking our chain again and hoping that we buy their new flavor of bullshit.
“The HIDTA grants must stop or we’ll never have ‘legal’ medical or recreational marijuana in Washington,” Sarich told us.
The eight HIDTA areas leave plenty of leeway for prosecutors on a “mission against marijuana” to target cannabis businesses. Since many anti-pot prosecutors have certainly shown a willingness to aggressive and creatively “interpret” Department of Justice marijuana enforcement guidelines in the past, it remains to be seen how the new federal policy will play out on the ground.
“While we know the federal government has reversed course on this sort of announcement in the past, this has the potential to be a major advancement in the history of drug reform,” said retired Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, advisory board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs.
“Allowing states to legalize and regulate marijuana will funnel millions of dollars of profits from the criminal organizations that have controlled the trade into the hands of legitimate businesses that check IDs and create jobs and badly needed tax revenues,” Stamper said. “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 and returning honor to the profession of policing.”
LEAP executive director, 34-year policing veteran Major Neill Franklin (Ret.) had this to say: “This is the most heartening news to come out of Washington in a long, long time. 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,” 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.”
“It’s nice to hear that the Obama administration doesn’t at this point intend to file a lawsuit to overturn the will of the voters in states that have opted to modernize their marijuana policies, but it remains to be seen how individual U.S. attorneys will interpret the new guidance and whether they will continue their efforts to close down marijuana businesses that are operating in accordance with state law,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.
“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,” Angell pointed out.
“The administration’s statement that it doesn’t think busting individual users should be a priority remains meaningless, as it has never been a federal focus to go after people just for using small amounts of marijuana,” Angell said. “The real question is whether the president will call off his federal agencies that have been on the attack and finally let legal marijuana businesses operate without harassment, or if he wants the DEA and prosecutors to keep intervening as they have throughout his presidency and thus continue forcing users to buy marijuana on the illegal market where much of the profits go to violent drug cartels and gangs.
“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,” Angell said. “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.“Polls from Pew and Gallup show that a supermajority of Americans wants the president to follow through on his 2008 pledges to respect marijuana laws, and that’s what advocates will continue pressing him to do,” Angell said.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB), the state agency in charge of implementing marijuana legalization in the Evergreen State, issued a Thursday statement praising the Obama Administration and state officials for forward progress.
“The Washington State Liquor Control Board would like to thank the Obama Administration, particularly Attorney General Eric Holder and the Dept. of Justice for its guidance today,” the WSLCB said in prepared statement.
“We would also like to thank Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson for their leadership and efforts on this issue these past nine months,” the press release reads. “As Gov. Inslee stated today, the Department of Justice today helped lay a path forward for Washington and Colorado to implement its [sic] systems of producing, processing and retailing recreational marijuana.”
“The Board’s primary rule-making focus has been to create a tightly regulated market with emphasis on public safety and restricting youth access,” the statement read. “In his letter, AG Holder shared the same concerns. We believe the action taken today by the federal government is the result of the conversations by our state elected leaders with the Dept. of Justice as well as the open and transparent system in which the rules have been crafted.
“The Board is confident that Washington’s recreational marijuana system will meet most, if not all, of the federal government’s stated concerns,” the WSLCB statement read. “With the federal government’s approval the Board will continue to move forward and implement I-502 and carry out the will of Washington State voters.”