Marijuana: Amendment 64 co-author "thrilled" by feds' decision about Colorado pot law

Last week, the U.S. Justice Department finally announced that it would not sue to stop Colorado's Amendment 64 from going into effect. Afterward, politicians and reformers alike shared their thoughts -- but in subsequent days, some of the latter shared misgivings about elements of the feds' memo regarding ongoing marijuana enforcement.

Still, attorney Brian Vicente, A64's co-author, sees the developments as almost wholly positive.

"We are thrilled that the federal government has decided to step aside and allow Colorado to move forward with the responsible regulation of marijuana in our state," Vicente says. "There was a pretty large question mark as to whether they were going to sue to preempt our law or take criminal action against those who opened these voter-authorized stores. But I think the Justice Department memo sends a clear message that they're not interested in doing so. And we feel this will allow for the will of the voters to be effectuated."

He adds that in his opinion, "this is the most significant shift in federal marijuana policy in thirty years. It provides a pretty clear path toward state-level legalization."

At the same time, a memo issued under the signature of Deputy Attorney General James Cole stresses that the Obama administration will not abandon all marijuana-related enforcement actions in Colorado and Washington, which passed a measure similar to Amendment 64 this past November.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaking before the American Bar Association in August.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaking before the American Bar Association in August.

The entire memo is below, but here are some bullet-point excerpts about areas of priority:

• Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;

• Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels;

• Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;

• Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;

• Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;

• Preventing drugged riving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;

• Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and

• Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property

In addition, the feds have reserved the right to reverse course and crack down should Colorado and Washington fall short of meeting these goals.

Does that prospect concern Vicente? Not so much.

"By and large, I think the latest memo is appropriate in terms of guiding federal resources," he says.

Granted, "the federal government could shift policies," he goes on. "This is not a federal law change, this is not Congressional action. But this is a very, very significant piece of guidance from the Department of Justice. So having closely followed and participated in the crafting of the regulatory structure for marijuana in Colorado, I think that as long as we continue to abide by the strict rules that have been created and focus on preventing diversion to minors and out of state, we'll be in good shape, and the federal government will allow this experiment to unfold.

"It's our hope that the federal government will treat this in much the same way they treated medical marijuana in Colorado. In that case, it's pretty clear that if you are following all state laws with 100 percent compliance, and not located near a school, they are allowing people to sell medical marijuana today, and make money and employ people and so forth. We think this is a similar green light for the new adult-use-and-legalization industry. And as long as people remain 100 percent complaint with state laws, they should be left alone."

Here's the latest Cole memo.

Justice Department Memo: Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement

More from our Marijuana archive circa Monday: "Marijuana: Can Senator Patrick Leahy force Eric Holder to talk Colorado pot?"

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