Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that the Department of Justice will let marijuana legalization laws go into effect in Colorado and Washington. Both states have passed ballot initiatives to legalize the drug, but of course, these are at odds with federal law. According to a DOJ official, the Huffington Post reports, Holder told the states' governors that he would take a "trust, but verify" approach, leaving the states to come up with their own way to implement and regulate the new laws.
Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project said in a statement,
Today’s announcement is a major and historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition. 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.
The DOJ will still prosecute individuals and entities if they violate terms laid out in a three-and-a-half page memo by Deputy Attorney General James Cole. Cause for prosecution includes selling marijuana to minors and using a marijuana business as a front for trafficking other illegal drugs.
When Colorado and Washington passed their initiatives in November, President Obama said the DOJ had “bigger fish to fry” and would not make going after marijuana users a priority. That didn't stop the Drug Enforcement Agency from raiding pot dispensaries in Washington in July, however. The DOJ's now-clear stance that the laws should stand as long as they aren't begetting other criminal activity, should let dispensary owners rest easier.
Photo by Albeiro Lopera for Reuters.