— HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Medical marijuana businesses worried that federal agents will close them down now have a roadmap to avoid prosecution, courtesy of the Justice Department's decision to allow legal pot in Colorado and Washington state.
The agency said last week that even though the drug remains illegal under federal law, it won't intervene to block state pot laws or prosecute as long as states create strict and effective controls that follow eight conditions.
"The DOJ is saying you guys need to color inside the lines," said Teri Robnett, founder of the Cannabis Patients Action Network, a Westminster, Colo.-based medical marijuana advocacy group. "If you color inside the lines, we'll let you keep your crayons.
"If you don't, we can come in and take your crayons away," she said.
The DOJ's policy memo comes after voters in Colorado and Washington last fall passed first-in-the-nation laws to allow recreational pot use and follows similar agency statements in recent years that helped spur the creation of medical marijuana systems across the U.S.
In states like Montana and California, an explosion in the use of medical marijuana spawned a backlash, stricter laws and tougher federal enforcement.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, whose office covers the Eastern District of California, said that more than half of the cases his office prosecutes comply with the criteria set out by the policy memo. Wagner said the memo wasn't so much a message to the marijuana industry but one to ensure there is better collaboration between state and federal authorities.
In California, "some cities and counties are banning (dispensaries), while others are licensing them and encouraging them," Wagner said. "It's hard to see how the current system fits the description laid out in the memo."