Marijuana: Obama administration will not sue to stop Amendment 64

The Obama administration will not sue to stop Colorado's Amendment 64, which allows adults 21 and over to use and possess small amounts of marijuana, and establishes a foundation for retail sales of recreational pot. This long-awaited news was confirmed by the office of Colorado-based U.S. Attorney John Walsh shortly after a phone call involving U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, which passed a marijuana measure similar to A64 this past November.

As we've reported, Governor Hickenlooper and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers spoke to Holder shortly after A64's passage last year, encouraging the Justice Department to make a speedy decision about how it would treat the measure -- an important consideration, since marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

But speedy it wasn't. Although Holder said a determination about A64's fate would be reached "relatively soon" this past March, the feds have largely maintained radio silence since then.

Of late, however, pressure has been building on the Obama forces to actually take a position. Last week, the White House finally talked pot following a press conference question related to a change of heart about the medical efficacy of weed by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- a shift inspired in part by the story of Charlotte Figi, a Colorado girl suffering from an epilepsy-like condition called Dravet Syndrome, who made tremendous progress thanks to cannabis oil. Not that the White House's comments offered much clarity. A spokesperson mainly repeated comments President Barack Obama had first made in December in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters. In the interview, Obama said he opposed federal legalization of marijuana at this juncture, but acknowledged that it didn't make much sense to go after a Coloradan with an ounce of weed. In his words, "We've got bigger fish to fry."

More recently, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy announced that he would call Holder and his assistant, James Cole, to testify at a September 10 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The reported goal of the hearing: Leahy's belief that state marijuana laws like the ones in Colorado should be respected.

Now, of course, we won't need to wait until next month to learn the administration's views. But that doesn't mean the feds are entirely out of the marijuana enforcement business in Colorado. Just out is a memo from Cole that lays out the pot-related areas in which the Justice Department will continue to focus its limited resources:

• 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
U.S. Attorney Walsh's statement echoes many of these points. It reads:
"The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado will continue to focus its marijuana enforcement efforts on the investigation and prosecution of cases that implicate the key federal public safety interests highlighted in the today's Department of Justice guidance. The key federal interests set forth in that guidance are also key interests of the people of Colorado. Of particular concern to the U.S. Attorney's Office are cases involving marijuana trafficking directly or indirectly to children and young people; trafficking that involves violence or other federal criminal activity; trafficking conducted or financed by street gangs and drug cartels; cultivation of marijuana on Colorado's extensive state and federal public lands; and trafficking across state and international lines. In addition, because the Department of Justice's guidance emphasizes the central importance of strong and effective state marijuana regulatory systems, the U.S. Attorney's Office will continue to focus on whether Colorado's system, when it is implemented, has the resources and tools necessary to protect those key federal public safety interests. To accomplish these goals, we look forward to closely working with our federal, state and local partners."
For more, here's the complete 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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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts