Blog Post

White House Green Lights Marijuana Laws in Washington and Colorado. Time to Celebrate?

Amanda Reiman
Jump for joy! Then get back to work.
Today the Justice Department made history when they announced that they will allow Colorado and Washington to proceed with the recreational marijuana laws passed by voters last November. The DOJ had been relatively silent on the issue until now, but the states themselves have been pushing ahead with designing these new systems of regulation. 
Those of us in the marijuana reform movement don’t get to celebrate very often. The victories in Washington and Colorado last November were exciting, but there was a feeling of looking over our shoulder and waiting for the Feds to swoop in and take it all away. Is today a sign that they indeed have “bigger fish to fry,” as Obama now famously put it when asked about this issue after the November election?  It seems to be. Not only is the DOJ claiming that Colorado and Washington can proceed with their new laws, they have directed U.S. Attorneys in medical marijuana states to ease off dispensaries that are in compliance with state law, and not to go after businesses due to sheer size. Make no mistake, this is a step forward.
However (and there is always a “however”), cognitive dissonance in the DOJ still exists on this issue. In the memo they released today, they list eight areas where the Feds will continue to enforce the Controlled Substances Act, even in states that permit marijuana use. They are:
  • Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;
  • Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
  • Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states; 
  • Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
  • Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
  • Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and 
  • Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
I am sure I am not the first one to notice that these issues are largely an effect of prohibition.  The memo notes that state regulation may further federal interests by reducing organized crime and making marijuana less available to youth.  If the states do a good job of regulation, then the DOJ’s role in those states should continue to shrink. 
Today is important, and exciting. But the continued classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance, and the blindness of the Federal government around the REAL impacts of marijuana prohibition continue to make this an uphill battle. But, please enjoy this small patch of flat road.
Amanda Reiman is marijuana policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Medical marijuana