Federal government won’t block Colorado marijuana legalization | SummitDaily.com

Federal government won’t block Colorado marijuana legalization

John Ingold
The Denver Post
The federal government announced yesterday that it won't attempt to blok legalization efforts in Colorado.
Ben Trollinger / btrollinger@summitdailly.com | Summit Daily News

The federal government will not make it a priority to block marijuana legalization in Colorado or Washington or close down recreational marijuana stores, so long as the stores abide by state regulations, according to new guidance being issued Thursday to federal prosecutors across the country.

Charlie Williams, owner of medical marijuana dispensary Alpenglow Botanicals in Breckenridge, said this is effectively the biggest change to happen in the industry to date.

“We’ve been the bastard step-children, and it wasn’t seen as a real business,” he said. “This is absolutely huge.”

The guidance — the details of which were provided by a Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity ­— is a significant rewrite of the federal approach to marijuana prosecutions in states that have loosened laws around cannabis. The guidance says prosecutors should not make it a priority to target marijuana users or marijuana business ­— either medical or recreational — so long as they are in compliance with state laws and not violating eight key federal priorities.

The Justice Department official said prosecutors will expect states with liberalized marijuana laws to establish strict regulations to keep pot out of the hands of kids and to keep criminal groups from moving into the legal marijuana industry.

States will be expected to have active and effective enforcement efforts for the regulations, the official said. If they fall short, the official said, the Department of Justice may move to block the state laws.

The official cautioned that the guidance does not change federal law regarding marijuana. Cannabis will remain a Schedule I controlled substance — the most tightly regulated type of drug under federal law — and people who use, grow or sell marijuana remain at risk for federal prosecution.

The guidance lists eight federal priorities that prosecutors should consider when deciding whether to undertake a prosecution. They are:

  • Preventing marijuana distribution to minors
  • Preventing money from sales from going to criminal groups
  • Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it is illegal
  • Preventing criminal groups from using state laws as cover for trafficking of other illegal drugs
  • Preventing violence and the use of illegal firearms
  • Preventing drugged driving
  • Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands
  • Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property

The Justice Department official said, contrary to previous DOJ guidance, the size or profitability of legal marijuana businesses will no longer be a factor in assessing whether they should be a target for prosecution.

The guidance was sent to U.S. attorneys in all 50 states on Thursday, the official said. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder briefed the governors of Colorado and Washington on the guidance in a phone call Thursday morning, the official said.

Summit Daily News reporter Kelsey Fowler contributed to this report.


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