Feds Reaffirm That They Will Not Likely Challenge State Legalization Laws

Speaking today before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, Deputy Attorney General James Cole reaffirmed that the Justice Department is unlikely to challenge statewide marijuana legalization efforts, provided that these efforts impose “robust regulations” which discourage sales to minors and seek to prevent the diversion of cannabis to states that have not yet legalized its use.

“We will not … seek to preempt state ballot initiatives,” Cole told members of the Committee, adding that state “decriminalization [laws] can co-exist with federal [drug] laws.”

In an August 29 Department of Justice memorandum, Deputy Attorney General Cole previously directed the US Attorneys in all 50 states not to interfere with the implementation of state marijuana regulations, unless such activities specifically undermined eight explicit federal law enforcement priorities.

In response to a question from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cole also stated that federal prosecutors should utilize similar discretion and not interfere with the activities of state-compliant cannabis dispensaries, as long as their actions “are not violating any of the eight federal enforcement priorities” outlined here. Rhode Island is one of six states, as well as Washington, DC, that presently licenses the production and distribution of medical cannabis. Six additional states are expected to enact similar licensing regulations in the coming months.

Several Senators and witnesses questioned whether the Justice Department would consider amending federal financial regulations which presently inhibit state-compliant cannabis businesses from taking standardized tax deductions and partnering with conventional financial institutions. Deputy Attorney General Cole responded that such proposed changes in law were arguably the responsibility of Congressional lawmakers, not the Justice Department.

Commenting on the hearing, NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri said, “For the first time in modern history, members of the US Congress and the Justice Department were not discussing furthering cannabis prohibition, but instead were testifying to the merits of cannabis legalization and regulation.”

Today’s hearings marked the first time that members of Congress have explicitly weighed in on the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws since voters in Colorado and Washington elected to legalize the retail production and sale of the plant this past November. The hearing was called for by Senate Judiciary Chairmen Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who acknowledged that the federal government “must have a smarter approach to marijuana policy.” Witnesses at today’s hearing also included King County, Washington Sheriff John Urquhart — a vocal supporter of the state’s new legalization law — and Jack Finlaw, Chief Legal Council for the Colorado Governor’s Office.

Archived video of today’s US Senate Judiciary hearing is online here.

66 thoughts

  1. Finally, the Feds have responded to the Will of the People.At least were headed in the rite direction. This would have never happened if Romney came in. The entire industry would have collapsed….Thank you Eric Holder and Deputy Cole… Cannabis Prohibition is coming to an end…

  2. And with that reassurance, all sorts of emerging industries can now get financial backing and actually emerge . Quite possibly the biggest positive impact on these state’s economies since the “Big Deal”

  3. Oblama and holdem didn’t have anything to do with the meeting the will of the people have spoken. notice how oblama has avoided the question since he took office.. remember he had an internet session and number one question the was asked that did not even get recognized was what??? need I say more.. these guys do nothing but pass the buck… poor excuse for leadership if you ask me..

  4. What about states like Michigan,i’m legal in our mj program but can’t legally own or buy a shotgun? This isn’t enough.

  5. What about companies that will not honor legalization at a state level for drug testing for their employees? Like my company says that they only follow federal law and doesnt care about what the state says… So even if its legal for rec. or med. i can still lose my job because of what the federal law says? Is their anyway around this?

  6. The uninformed, alarmist, hyperbolic BS that was spewed from Kevin Sabet at that hearing today was difficult to listen to. I would have expected a more informed opinion from someone with an Oxford education.

  7. Well it seems our government officials are finally looking at the prohibition of marijuana in a more logical and neutral way. The 8 conditions are completely reasonable and their fulfillment would probably be helped more than hindered by legalization.

  8. Whatever you do here, don’t say anything at all negative about Kevin Sabet… Your comments will be REMOVED.

  9. If this keeps heading in the direction that we hope and dream that it will, we are living in truly amazing times. I look forward to the amazing discoveries that will be found when we will finally be able to study this plant and show how wrong the greedy and power drunk prohibitionists really were.

  10. This does nothing it is just a show (we looked and talked but nothing changed) when will they really do something

  11. I hope this will make it possible for all who need the cannabis to eventually be able to have access to it without any opposition, I say its about time!!!!

  12. The fact that this hearing was held is significant in and of itself. For us in the hinterland, the Cole memo and this hearing will tell them it’s safe to act in our favor. There will be push and pull yet, to be sure, but we are at least inching in the right direction.

  13. Once again, a Great, warm, congratulations to NORML, and all of us who donate our money, time and counteless letters and calls to our Congressman to own this piece of history.
    And once again, we must reaffirm our commitment and accept there will be an eternal battle to make sure these cannabis legalization laws are past correctly and with impunitive justice.
    Every one of the “eight” exceptions to the DOJ rules of legal cannabis contains an industry profiting of cannabis prohibition behind it. Guaranteed.
    We will not go quietly after 40 years of made-to-fail Drug War lies to concede to tyranny and deception. We will not be denied the innovation and freedom of hemp and marijuana products while the innocent are allowed to rot in prison.
    The most beautiful thing I admire from NORML is how we best represent true Democracy by funding and supporting our own lobbyists with our own interests from a well organized and well established non-for-profit within the United States: LONG LIVE NORML!!! If I may be so bold to propose a cannabis toast: “To NORML! For Money made of Hemp and Justice! For the Love of our Land and Freedom! … And the Time to enjoy it… Salud!” (Toke on…)
    The Organization of American States deserves a great deal of credit here, as well as the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, Law Enforcement Against Drug Prohibition and heck, even Vicente Fox. And whether people who love to hate Obama like it or not, what is happening today to end cannabis prohibition required executive order from Obama that I suspect deserves some credit to Michelle Obama in the wake of the Trayvon Martin Case. President Obama mentioned his “long talk with Michelle” in his speech after the Trayvon verdict, the first of its kind where ANY U.S. President spoke in a derrogatory manner over the failed Drug Wars. Descriminating drug arrests played a personal role here for the President, whose legacy is at stake for the welfare of African American liberty from unjust incarceration.
    And ultimately, isn’t unjust incarceration what is at the heart of all this injustice? After all the gangster’s Paradise and terf wars selling guns and drugs within the DOJ or without that prohibition provides: At the end of the day, do we want our children jailed for an indightment of marijuana posession?

    “Lord when did we see the sick or in prison and came unto thee? “And the King will answer and say unto them, “Verily I say unto you, in as much as ye have done it unto one or of the least of these my brethren, ye have done to me.” (Mathew 25:39-40)

  14. Correction to my earlier post: I wish for “cannabis legalization laws” to be “passed correctly,” but we do need to get our “past correctly” in order to accomplish that…

  15. Well the big boys up top are saying that they are leaving it up to the states. It is now time to bombard your own state legislatures and show them the proof that Congress is saying it’s ok if the states want legalization and that they are not trying to enforce their own laws. If it was so bad the Feds would be beating down the doors. The time is now, CARPE DIEM!!

  16. The testimony about banking is nothing short of amazing. The Fed controls the banking system. That they are talking about accommodations for the legal marijuana industry is very telling about where we are at. Instead of subverting the developing industry, they are talking about nurturing it! The tipping point has been reached. Tip it over.

  17. What department or agency can remove cannabis from being a Schedule I drug federally? Seems like thats the whole problem here. Was this discussed in the talks today?

  18. @Xi1e76: That is temporary. Even if employers can fire people for smoking MJ–based on that ultimately doomed federal law–at some point they’re going to realize they can’t win, and they won’t be able to maintain a strong employee base by firing perfectly productive and safe workers because of a test that shows that at some point off the clock they indulged in what is now a perfectly legal substance (in those legalized states). There are even some companies that don’t drug test in Colorado while drug testing to the fullest extent they can get away with in all the other states. In fact, Drug War profiteers are doubling down in states like mine (Ohio) that have neither mm or full legalization because they’re trying to shore up the lost revenue from those saner states. They’re lobbying the state governments to require drug testing for any company that gets grants for anything (which is how my fomerly-ethical company lost its way) and busting their humps to drive fear into the hearts of employers that now that legalization has begun they now have to fear all those MJ “druggies” working for them and endangering their businesses. Which is sad, because it has already been established that full-on drug testing programs in schools OR employment actually result in higher usage of hard drugs, while lowering the harmless MJ users (who also, from the unbiased data, tend to be more productive).

    What I’m saying is that I look forward to working with a lot more cocaine addicts now that my company has taken an “everyone’s piss is my business at all times” policy. And yes, I’m being sarcastic. When their newly-acquired cocaine-addicted employees in the near future start not showing up, I’m not answering my phone either to come in on my precious few days off to save their bacon either. They wanted drug testing, they made their bed, they can lie in it as far as I’m concerned. Maybe if I don’t save their bacon, they’ll see how counter-productive drug testing actually is, and I’m sure not about to do a single thing to mitigate that evidence.

    What I’m saying to you is: be patient, but keep fighting the good fight. We are at 20 states with legalized MJ now, and two states at once that legalized (which had to scare them senseless–I think they counted on the states legalizing one by one and that they could throw their money at one focal point at a time to neutralize those laws, and they never saw CO and WA coming!). Several more states are considering MJ legalization, several more are considering full legalization now. The dominoes are falling, and when enough of them fall, so will the federal law and with that, many if not most of the Drug War profiteer programs–including drug testing, of which 98% of positive results are for MJ. We’re winning this, and they are having one hell of an extinction burst over their looming defeat.

    Seriously, every time I hear the pro-Drug-War morons whine, I have a “Scott Tenorman Must Die” moment, with the Drug War supporters in the role of Scott and me as Cartman–and all the Drug War profiteers ill-gotten wealth as the parents. “Let me taste your tears, they taste so good, tears of unfathomable sorrow…” It’s a good feeling. 🙂

  19. This is great news but now that the official view of the US government respects regulated marijuana in states when will they extend this tolerance to other nations. Regulation in Washington and Colorado goes much further than the Netherlands for example so will US policy still be to discourage (maybe even intimidate) any nation that moves towards legalisation.
    If more states (especially California which is internationally known through TV and Cinema) legalise then US foreign policy on this matter will seem out of place if not down right oppressive. This matter needs to be addressed urgently if the US is not to loose respect in the world.

    Good news for you guys though – very best wishes from UK

  20. I won’t be happy until a DEA agent and Holder and Obama personally stick a joint into my mouth and light it with their blood money!!!!!! And I won’t be happy until the DEA and Holder and Obama personally write me a letter of apology, then personally hand me an ounce of high grade, free of charge (non-taxed, of course).

    And even then, I probably won’t be happy. Oops, sorry, just being sarcastic.

  21. Kevin Sabet is the posterboy for prohibition. He seems ro be in complete denial aboutnthe safety record of marijuana and rhe fact that the laws are what have hurtnso many people; not the consumption of marijuana!

    He stands to lose a lot if/when our country comes to it’s senses and legalizes since his forced rehab climics will lose a lot of ‘customers’. I will take great pleasure dancing on his grave someday!

  22. Nothing has changed for the most part like when they said they wouldn’t go after dispensaries but did anyway… We need the fwdral law changed so that states can’t regulate how they see fit. its the right step to see but we really need the laws changed if were going to win. As soon as someone else gets in it can and more than likely will change.

  23. We have legalization models in various states that can preclude interference from the Feds and their “robust regulations”.

    The Feds are out of money to wage their damn culture war on the rest of us.

    So we keep pressing the separate states to legalize.

    I guess NORML fans already knew this stuff.

  24. Xi1e76: Drug testing is nothing but a witch hunt for pot smokers. Coke addicts clean up in 3 days, drunks clean up in 8 hours. Pot smokers – 45 days. ALL DRUG TESTING IS BULLSHIT!!ALL DRUG TESTING is an invasion of privacy. Stay the FUCK outta my bedroom, stay the FUCK outta my bathroom and stay the FUCK outta my piss!!!!!

  25. Thank you NORML for being a voice for those of us who have to “live underground” for fear of incarceration or arrest.

    I live in a state that does not allow Marijuana and it’s saddening that in one state such as CO, I wouldn’t have to fear being thrust into the criminal justice system and have my livelihood and future destroyed, but in my home state of WI, I could very well serve an extended stay in jail or even prison for having marijuana for personal consumption.

    I am so thankful your organization (NORML) continues the fight.

  26. Thank God! A step in the right direction…I just wish federal law would reflect state law, or at the very least have federal law respect state law. Oh well, that will happen soon enough.

  27. hooray for college students & housewives in colorado and washington. they are the only ones who can benefit from this “legalization”. you can’t get a job if you smoke marijuana.

  28. Don’t trust them its a ploy for the states to let there guard down again

    [Editor’s note: Feds don’t have to be trusted…as they’re losing central control of the issue. States are in the driver’s seat…with feds in rear view mirror…needing to catch up. Happened with Alcohol Prohibition, likely too with Cannabis Prohibition. When states lead, feds are pretty choice-less but to largely acquiesce.]

  29. Scott,

    There are plenty of job that don’t do drug testing. Maybe you can’t be a cop, a teacher, or a truck driver, but you can run your own business, or be President of the United States.

  30. I think this is just the Feds way of getting prohibition back on track. People are going to do dumb stuff, and make risky decisions while under the influence. Not a whole lot, but a few.
    This is how it came to be, you can choose “rehab” or a fine. Thus leads to the tag of cannabis being “addictive” because surely, if someone wasn’t an addict, they wouldn’t need rehab right?”

    Though it’s a surely welcomed change in pace, I honestly don’t believe the Feds are pushed into a corner enough to just let the average Joe enjoy a peaceful toke just yet.

    On an off note, I wonder how much Big2Wacko has paid in their effort to lobby against this

  31. I’ll believe this administration when they call off Haag. She thinks she can still go after large state compliant MMJ enterprises such as Harbor Side because in her logic the larger they are the more “likely” there is to be something afoot. I say not. Everything can be on the up and up and no violations. If things arise they can’t be institutionalized in the structure of the enterprise and employees knowingly giving the tent a bad rap, you know, need to be dealt with, disciplined or fired on a case by case basis. If they don’t care of high visibility they are on the up and up. I say, as long as they are self-policing the feds should do nothing, and if the feds know something they don’t the feds should fill them in so that the people at the top of the legal cannabis hierarchy can take action. If you think the big bosses and people on the board of directors or executive committee are corrupt and in cahoots with a corrupt local government then that’s a big deal that they are NOT state law compliant. But the feds seem to see all cooperation between local government and cannabis enterprises as corruption when it’s really not, but rather is the will of the people and legal by state law. The feds really need to differentiate.

    Just cuz you big n fat don’t mean that you a crook.

    I read the 7 Questions senators were supposed to ask the Administration on Alternet.



  32. There’s 2 things the government loves money and power. If half of Medi-care recipients benefit from Mary1a , first of all you are better off because someone higher up than us created it; if it wasn’t for man why do we have cannabadiaol in our receptors. The government benefits greatly as they 1 would more than likely save billions on pharmacology. 2 they do not have to pay for MMJ so what do they have to loose?

  33. I think this was truly historic and another win for our side. But in todays paper it seems the city council in my tiny town has voted 6-1 for prohibition on all mj sales, cultivation and clubs. This does not include hemp. Now what can we do about that? Pueblo is the closest city that will have stores open for business early next year. That is over 50 miles away. We voted for legalization and won. But too many towns are banning the sale. Just doesn’t seem fair.

  34. @Nick:
    We have to push for the ability to grow hemp and marijuana on our own lands. Otherwise we are fighting for the insurance companies and petrochemical industries. Zoning and regulation should include a seperate minimum between medicinal marijuana (At LEAST 6 plants per person) and industrial hemp (At LEAST 1 acre per household).
    @ Joel: The DEA is cowering in fear. The gig is up. Let’s see how well they can cover their tracks…

  35. @Owen: RIGHT ON! Marijuana prohibition is the lynchpin of the Drug War AND it’s dishonest profiteers. Legalize that, and everything crumbles. MJ is the ONLY thing propping up the pro-Drug War’s “horrifying” statistics, wherein they describe the effects of the hardest (and most minority) drugs, tell you about the high drug use rates, and simply neglect to tell people that the vast majority of those statistics are for MJ which is significantly less harmful than cigarettes or alcohol. The entire Drug War has become precariously balanced on this one pinhead of lying and dishonestly spinning drug use statistics around marijuana.

    Seriously, spin is the only thing the Drug Warriors had from the beginning, and the same goes for drug testing. The ACLU exposed those lies almost immediately, but that went ignored. NORML has an excellent article (Your Analysis is Faulty: How to Lie with Drug Statistics) that also details how the drug testing industry lied and deliberately skewed data in a time of moral panic and public ignorance to get support to force drug testing onto the entire country rapid-fire.

    Now is the time to spread the word about drug testing, now that we have a solid majority (and gaining ground every day) that supports marijuana legalization, we need to make more people aware of the lies of the drug testing industry. You’d be surprised how many people who otherwise support marijuana legalization still think that drug testing is keeping them safe from the “hard drug users”. They’re often surprised to find out the truth, including the fact that, far from keeping you safe in the workplace, drug testing programs actually increase the number of “hard drug users” in the workplace (who are more likely to come to work screwed up). Intuitively, you’d think that it would screen out the dangerous people, but intuition is neither logic nor fact. Intuitively, the sun goes around the earth, after all.

    Here’s a by-no-means extensive ongoing compilation of papers and articles about why drug testing is inaccurate, ineffective, counter-productive, and also focused on persecuting marijuana users. It features many excellent articles from NORML. I printed out several copies and keep them with me at all times so I can give them out to people I speak with about this violation of human rights.


    We don’t need to keep running for long now, though. Most Americans believe MJ will be legal within the next five to ten years, and if those of us who oppose drug testing keep raising awareness of the facts we can parallel that advancement.

    To tell the truth, I think that opposing drug testing could be crucial here right now. I think that workplace drug testing is going to become the battleground wherein the Drug War profiteers try to enforce prohibition–as in “sure, you hoi polloi made it legal, but we’re going to double down on the ’employer’s rights to do as they please’ values of modern day America and make prohibition a de facto reality by making sure MJ users can’t find work”. That was the purpose of drug testing from the beginning, in fact: not to make workplaces safer but to make sure drug users can’t find work and creating an incentive for people to quit (sure, right, just “quit” hard substances that they will tell you in the next breath require medical attention to withdraw, frikkin liars). When they know they’re on the final stretch, workplace drug testing is where they’re going to make their final stand, IMO–which, as I stated before, is likely already happening in non-legal or MM states right now.

    I have no idea how far they think they can take it though. For crying out loud, near-total saturation of drug testing coupled with state and federal laws prohibiting MJ have not worked to maintain pro-prohibition public opinion, so what makes them think this will somehow change minds and turn the tide in their favor. Do they really think that forcing MJ users to choose between weed and starving (and some people to choose between weed as a vital medication and starving), especially once it’s legal, is going to change our minds about MJ? Do they really think that they’re going to make MJ users change their mind and support prohibition by trying to forcibly maintain prohibition and forcibly keep them from their now-perfectly-legal weed–especially when alcohol and tobacco are still legal and can be used without losing a job? They’ll just cause a riot–but you can’t expect pathetic whiners about to lose their bazillion dollar businesses to think rationally in the middle of their little tantrums.

    @Miles: Can I join you, dancing on that grave? We’ll have a party!

  36. @dave:
    You’re hopefully being sarcastic, because we all know that few people have the startup money or the opportunity to run their own business–especially nowadays when corporate America has made sure that businesses that aren’t already part of a huge franchise are mostly doomed to fail. Not to mention various state laws that refuse business grant money to any business that doesn’t drug test the crap out of their employees, so it wouldn’t be long before you’d have to sell out (like my company, a local chain that wants to expand).

    Believe me, if it was that easy I’d already be doing it. I’ve been fighting drug testing (futilely) for years, and trying to resist and trying to do anything I can to avoid taking a drug test (I’m not a user, but I value my civil rights and my physical privacy–though even my own mother told me I should use MJ because I’m so high-strung and prone to migraines, she said it would do me a world of good).

  37. A bit OT, but what is NORML’s take on the California laws that are trying to tighten medical marijuana access? The DPA seems to be happy with it. I wonder why, since my first instinct was that it was an anti-legalization effort, another extinction burst tantrum by Drug War profiteering industries trying to cut off the legalization effort, but with the DPA’s support I’m not sure. Do you think it’s intended to light a fire under the butts of people in CA to finally legalize, since the loose MMJ laws allowed them to have de facto legalization and so they might not have had the same motivation to get to the polls and vote for full legalization?

    [Editor’s note: Though the first state to have voters adopt medical cannabis laws, CA now legally lags behind other states (notably CO, WA; OR, NV, NM, VT, RI, ME, etc…states that actually issue licenses to grow and sell cannabis). CA patients and consumers probably have the greatest access to cannabis products, but, for 13 years the state has failed to build on the wisdom and momentum of the voters. The most recent attempt at the legislative level in CA to update the state’s medical cannabis laws is in the wake of the recent DOJ memo affirming state autonomy on this issue. The current legislative effort in CA is not part of legalization efforts directed at the ballot in 2016, just trying to catch up and build some legal protections for MMDs in CA against federal raids that don’t exist today because the state is not an actual player.]

  38. What are the next important dates to mark down regarding state/government legislation bills that would be voted on regarding marijuana?

    Is there a calendar on this web-site with such info?


    [Editor’s note: Currently, the Congress has no hearings set for any of the seven reform bills that have been introduced. Before the close of 2013, a few more states might have hearings and/or move legislation on cannabis-related matters. Currently CA has ‘regulate medical cannabis dispensary’ bill just introduced; some state legislators in OR and ME are telling media that they’re ready to introduce legalization bills soon.

    NORML reform calendar is found here.

    Pending federal and state legislation is found here.]

  39. Finally they are getting something right! If they would just put forth the efforts towards legalization and taxation of cannabis/marijuana. The same efforts that they are using to convince us that war is good. Then maybe we could add close to a million we jobs to our week economy! those tax dollars could put people to work as substance abuse counselors, construction workers to fix our infrastructure, and immigration officers to ensure that there is no importation of cannabis or marijuana from other countries at all to ensure safety. Not to mention all the new since that needs to be developed to further the medical aspects of this plant that was wrongfully taken from us!

  40. BOTTOM LINE: If you can’t use it, who cares if its legal? One more treat for rich people. lets not forget if it is legal your boss can smoke but you can’t.

  41. Don’t be fooled. They only appear to be backing down now because they have to, but as long as the Prohibition laws are in place, they will keep coming back.

    Remember what Obe Wan said: “The sand people are easily startled, but they’ll soon be back and in greater numbers.”

  42. This time, the words articulated where so much clearer: “If we try to remove this legal industry, we will be supporting criminals and drug cartel. That is completely against our stated goals”.

    There is no way to dance around that one folks. The Ogden memo appears to finally be dead. Maybe Melinda Haag should be given a nudge, because she don’t seem to be getting the clue?

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