U.S. won’t sue to stop recreational marijuana use in Colorado, Washington

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government said Thursday it won’t sue to stop the first two states that allowed recreational marijuana use from letting the practice go forward.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government said Thursday it won’t sue to stop the first two states that allowed recreational marijuana use from letting the practice go forward.

Colorado and Washington have been moving cautiously while waiting to see how the federal government would respond. Federal law forbids marijuana use and possession.

But in December, President Barack Obama said it does not make sense for the federal government to go after recreational drug users in a state that has legalized recreational use of small amounts of marijuana. Obama himself has admitted smoking pot when he was younger. Last week the White House said prosecution of drug traffickers remains an important priority.

In its sweeping policy announcement Thursday, the Justice Department outlined eight top priority areas for its enforcement of marijuana laws.

They range from preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors to preventing sales revenue from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels and preventing the diversion of marijuana outside of states where it is legal under state law.

Other top-priority enforcement areas include preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover for trafficking other illegal drugs, and preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana.

The top areas also include preventing drugged driving, preventing growing marijuana on public land and preventing marijuana possession on federal property.

The action, welcomed by supporters of legalization, could set the stage for more states to legalize marijuana. Alaska is scheduled to vote on the question next year, and a few other states plan similar votes in 2016.

Currently, 20 states and Washington, D.C., allow medical marijuana — a more restricted usage.

But there were critics.

Peter Bensinger, a former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the conflict between federal and state law is clear and can’t be reconciled. Federal law is paramount, and Attorney General Eric Holder, who heads the Justice Department, is “not only abandoning the law, he’s breaking the law. He’s not only shirking his duty, he’s not living up to his oath of office,” Bensinger said.

A Pew Research Center poll in March found that 60 per cent of Americans think the federal government shouldn’t enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states where its use has been approved. Younger people, who tend to vote more Democratic, are especially prone to that view. But opponents are worried these moves will lead to more use by young people. Colorado and Washington were states that helped re-elect Obama.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates the sort of political vision and foresight from the White House we’ve been seeking for a long time,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based group.

“The White House is basically saying to Washington and Colorado: Proceed with caution.”

Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization, called the policy change “a major and historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition” and “a clear signal that states are free to determine their own policies.”

Kevin Sabet, the director of Project Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group, predicted the new Justice Department policy will accelerate a national discussion about legalization because people will see its harms — including more drugged driving and higher high school dropout rates.

Kristi Kelly, a co-founder of three medical marijuana shops near Denver, said the Justice Department’s action is a step in the right direction.

“We’ve been operating in a grey area for a long time. We’re looking for some sort of concrete assurances that this industry is viable,” she said.

A national trade group, the National Cannabis Industry Association, said it hopes steps will be taken to allow marijuana establishments access to banking services. Federally insured banks are barred from taking money from marijuana businesses because the drug is still banned by the federal government.

———

———

Associated Press writers Pete Yost in Washington and Eugene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

———

AP Interactive

———

Associated Press writer Pete Yost contributed.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Former Innisfail town councillor breached code of conduct many times, says review

Consultants say 29 of 36 alleged breaches by Glen Carritt had merit

Members of the Red Deer RCMP downtown patrol monitor for drug activity and property crimes. (Advocate file photo).
Two peace officers are training to join Red Deer’s downtown police patrol unit

This “integrated” unit will be the first in Alberta

Students and staff at Gateway Christian School wore pink Wednesday in support of Pink Shirt Day, a worldwide anti-bullying initiative that was started in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Public Schools)
Students, central Alberta community celebrate Pink Shirt Day

Mayor of Sylvan Lake Sean McIntyre supports anti-bullying cause

City of Red Deer has nearly doubled its active COVID-19 case count since Feb. 10 and has 75.6 per cent of the Central zone’s active cases. (File photo)
Another new high: Red Deer hits 574 active COVID-19 cases

Province reports 13 new COVID-19 deaths, 430 new cases

A homeless shelter was promised Red Deer to help the city deal with downtown issues. The city and province finally released a signed agreement on what the facility will offer, a year after a $7 million commitment was made for the project by the province. (Advocate file photo).
City and province take next step in bringing a 24/7 shelter to Red Deer

It will include a detox and counselling services

Meteor spotted over Edmonton, Alta., on Feb. 22, 2021 by several, who took to social media to share their surveillance camera captures. (@KixxAxe/Twitter)
VIDEO: Fireball meteor streaks across sky, spotted by early-morning risers in Alberta, B.C.

Videos of the quick streak of light flashing across the sky before 6:30 a.m. MST

Purolator expanding rural facilities amid demand from remote workers

Purolator expanding rural facilities amid demand from remote workers

Trans Mountain pipeline owner asks regulator to hide identity of its insurers

Trans Mountain pipeline owner asks regulator to hide identity of its insurers

The Crescent Point Energy Corp. logo is shown in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Crescent Point vows to pay down debt from Shell acquisition with rising oil profits

Crescent Point vows to pay down debt from Shell acquisition with rising oil profits

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces $43 million in repairs and improvements to provincial parks at a news conference in Calgary on Sep. 15, 2020. Two of Alberta's largest First Nations have written letters to coal companies saying they will oppose any new mine proposals in the Rocky Mountains. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
‘Serious concerns’: Alberta First Nations oppose coal expansion in Rocky Mountains

‘Serious concerns’: Alberta First Nations oppose coal expansion in Rocky Mountains

A street sign along Bay Street in Toronto's financial district is shown in Toronto on Tuesday, January 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto stock market climbs on strong gains by energy and financials sectors

Toronto stock market climbs on strong gains by energy and financials sectors

A National Bank sign is seen May 30, 2016 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
National Bank sees profit rise as consumers save, invest more

National Bank sees profit rise as consumers save, invest more

Email editor@interior-news.com
Letter: Read up on tax report

The Advocate article published Feb. 20 about the Canadian Taxpayers Federation slamming… Continue reading

Opinion
Opinion: When Kenney promises no tax hike, does he mean it?

Premier Jason Kenney is trying to assure Albertans that there won’t be… Continue reading

Most Read