Although it's easy to be cynical, this announcement by the DOJ today could potentially be a real turning point in ending the War on Drugs.
The federal government will not try to pre-empt Washington’s law allowing adults to use recreational marijuana.While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, Holder's memo instructs prosecutors to focus on eight areas where state and federal law basically agree:
In what state officials described as a “game changer”, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday it will focus attention on several key areas of illegal marijuana production and sales, but will allow Washington and Colorado to continue setting up a system for legal marijuana to be grown and sold to adults.
-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 other 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
NORML praised the decision, calling it historic:
“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.”Other activists had a more mixed reaction to the news:
This is a very positive development but I also recommend taking a “trust but verify” approach with any administration’s announcement regarding marijuana policy. The administration previously promised a hands-off approach when it comes to medical marijuana but then took many controversial steps to impede the use and sale of medical marijuana.Reactions from here in Washington State, including Democratic Governor Jay Inslee:
For now this appears to be very good news, but I will withhold full judgment until I see it in practice.
“We have found a way forward,” Inslee declared in a news conference, thanking Holder and President Obama and signaling that much more work is ahead.
“What I’m hearing from the federal government is that they believe there’s a reason to trust the states of Washington and Colorado,” Inslee said. “We’re going to need to show that this system works.”
Initiative 502 campaign manager Alison Holcomb said in an interview that Holder’s decision was “incredibly exhilarating.”Notably, Chris Christie, widely viewed as one of the frontrunners for the Republican nomination in 2016, had a different take:
“I’m very excited for the Washington voters that they now have clarity that they will in fact get to lead the nation in taking a new approach to marijuana,” she said.
"I think it's a mistake by the Attorney General, frankly. There is no such thing as medical marijuana, it's just marijuana," Christie said. "He essentially by fiat legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington.That's certainly something I would never do in New Jersey."Here's the full Justice Department memo (PDF).
"That's to be decided by the congress and president, not by the Attorney General," Christie told reporters during an unrelated press conference in Point Pleasant Beach.
Christie has said publicly that he would never sign a bill pending in the New Jersey legislature if it ever reached his desk.