Nearly a year after Washington state and Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana, the Obama administration announced on Thursday that it won't sue the states to comply with federal laws, though it reserves the right to in the future.
The administration also issued new guidelines for all U.S. attorneys on the dynamic issue of marijuana law, recommending that they only focus on prosecuting major cases. Specifically, the Justice Department laid out eight high-priority areas for enforcement, including preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing revenue from marijuana sales from going to criminal enterprises, and preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
In effect, the Obama administration is -- for now -- letting states carry out their experiments with loosening marijuana policies.
Attorney General Eric Holder spoke with Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., and Gov. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., in a phone conversation around Noon on Thursday to inform them of the administration's decision. Last November, voters in both Washington and Colorado approved ballot initiatives allowing anyone over the age of 21 to use marijuana.
Marijuana, however, is still prohibited under the federal Controlled Substances Act. It's listed in the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 drug, which are described as substances with a high potential for abuse and with no accepted medical use.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia over the past decade and a half have legalized medical marijuana -- also in violation of federal law. In 2009, Mr. Obama's Justice Department released the Ogden memo, explaining it would not make going after medical marijuana users a priority. That however, didn't stop the administration from cracking down on marijuana dispensaries, particularly in California -- including sites that were in full compliance with state laws. In a 2011 memo, the Justice Department clarified that the Ogden memo was meant to apply only to individual medical marijuana users -- "not commercial operations cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana."
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