The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

August 30, 2013

AG says feds will respect state marijuana laws

WASHINGTON, D.C. — United States Attorney General Eric Holder today said he would announce new guidelines for prosecutors across the country in the application of federal law in states that have legalized the medicinal or recreational use of marijuana, according to insiders at the Department of Justice.

The guidelines are expected to deprioritize the enforcement of federal laws that conflict with democratically enacted state laws legalizing the substance as long as state officials maintain strict regulation and focus on keeping marijuana out of the hands of children, preventing organized crime from profiting from the sale, enforcing impaired driving laws, keeping the trade within the state, and other restrictions. 

Significantly, the announcement applies to both users and providers of the drug, extending limited protection for growers, sellers and distributors rather than solely consumers, as has been the unstated policy until this point. Though the Department of Justice has reversed course on such announcements in the past, such as in 2011, when the so-called Cole Memo reversed the administration’s earlier stance of deprioritizing prosecution of medical marijuana sellers in states that had legalized its medicinal use (and the general disregard for the Ogden memo which announced the policy of deprioritization and was then ignored by US attorneys who continued to prosecute medical marijuana providers), this represents a huge leap forward for marijuana legalization in the United States.

“While we know the federal government has reversed course on this sort of announcement in the past, this has the potential to be a major advancement in the history of drug reform,” said retired Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, advisory board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs. “Allowing states to legalize and regulate marijuana will funnel millions of dollars of profits from the criminal organizations that have controlled the trade into the hands of legitimate businesses that check IDs and create jobs and badly needed tax revenues. For me, this means my fellow officers will be able to focus on their real job of preventing and solving violent crime, increasing their ability to do that job and returning honor to the profession of policing.”

LEAP executive director, 34-year policing veteran Major Neill Franklin (Ret.) had this to say: "This is the most heartening news to come out of Washington in a long, long time. The federal government is not simply standing aside and allowing the will of the people to prevail in these two states. The attorney general and the Obama administration are exhibiting inspired leadership. The message to the people of the other 48 states, to all who value personal freedom and responsible regulation is clear: seize the day."