Washington, DC: Federal justice officials will not challenge the implementation of laws in Colorado and Washington that allow for the production, consumption, and sale of marijuana to those over 21 years of age. Voters in both states approved initiatives in November allowing for the licensed production and retail sales of the plant, both of which are anticipated to begin early next year.
A Justice Department memorandum, authored by US Deputy Attorney General James Cole on Thursday, to US attorneys in all 50 states directs prosecutors not to interfere with state legalization efforts and those licensed to engage in the plant’s production and sale, provided that such persons do not engage in marijuana sales to minors or divert the product to states that have not legalized its use, among other guidelines.
"This is a historic step forward," stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri. "Assuming the Department of Justice stays true to their word, these states and others will no doubt move forward with the state-licensed regulation of cannabis for adults. The public has evolved beyond the simplistic, failed policies of cannabis prohibition and are seeking pragmatic, regulatory alternatives. It is encouraging to see that the federal government no longer intends to stand in their way."
United States Attorneys will individually be responsible for interpreting the new federal guidelines and how they apply to any cases that they intend to prosecute. However, according to sources cited by the Huffington Post, "prosecutors would no longer be allowed to use the sheer volume of sales or the for-profit status of an operation as triggers for prosecution, though these factors could still affect their prosecutorial decisions."
The memo affirms that cannabis still remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.
To date, 20 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation to allow for the physician-authorized consumption of cannabis. Seven of those states, as well as Washington, DC, also allow for the state-licensed cultivation and sale of marijuana to qualified patients. Two states – Colorado and Washington – allow for the licensed commercial production and retail sale of cannabis for non-medical purposes.
Earlier this week, United States Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, scheduled a Congressional hearing to discuss the present conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, September 10, at 10am Eastern Standard Time. Both US Attorney General Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole are invited to testify at the hearing.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, or Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director, at (202) 483-5500.