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Clarity on Legal Weed

In a conference call that included the governors of both Washington state and Colorado, Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, clarified the federal government’s stance on allowing marijuana for recreational use. This has been an ongoing question, ever since we legalized weed in our state.

The final outcome, according to reporting at CNN, is that the federal government will focus on other enforcement priorities and allow state law enforcement to handle marijuana cases. Since not all production and use is legal in our state, this will still allow the DEA to go after dealers or growers of cannabis.

By not preempting our law, the feds have removed a significant barrier to making legalized weed a success. This ruling means that businesses who were on the fence about investing in marijuana will be more likely to take the risk, although certainly some risk remains. Because this is a policy decision, it could change as quickly as it was instituted. Holder was merely informing our governor of what the current enforcement focus will be, not agreeing to any guarantee. In fact, the US Attorney General is not empowered to change law in any case. All he can do is direct federal prosecutors to pay less attention or to refer marijuana arrests to state authorities.

Whether this new policy will mean loosening restrictions elsewhere remains to be seen. Federal arrests and prosecutions for marijuana possession continue in other states, even those with medical marijuana laws on the books. It may depend on how well Washington does at enforcing the limits of our law. If we opt for strict enforcement – arresting and prosecuting marijuana offenders who stray outside the “lines” – the feds are less likely to intervene. At least, that seems to be the general rule, as evidenced by the type of cases federal prosecutors take on in California and elsewhere. When state standards are not being enforced, it gives the feds a window of opportunity to react and clamp down. When state laws are enforced, even when those laws allow some marijuana use, the feds seem happy to let matters rest with state government.

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