Twenty U.S. states and the District of Columbia permit the use of medical marijuana, and two states (Colorado and Washington) have recently approved the decriminalization of possession of recreational amounts of marijuana. And the federal government doesn't seem to care.
While federal laws still prohibit the use of the Schedule 1 drug, deputy attorney general James M. Cole wrote to federal prosecutors across the country with a memo stating that the Justice Department's " limited prosecutorial resources,” would downgrade efforts to usurp state marijuana laws. “A system adequate to that task must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice,” he wrote.
The new guidance would remove larger marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers from targeted federal lists often raided by the DEA despite operating legally per a state's regulations.
Cole made it clear that sales to minors, illegal drug and gang activity, as well as interstate trafficking of marijuana would not be tolerated. And if the government finds a state’s controls are inadequate, “the federal government may seek to challenge the regulatory structure itself in addition to continuing to bring individual enforcement actions, including criminal prosecutions,” Mr. Cole wrote.
The New York Times reported marijuana advocates "praised the decision," calling it "a potentially historic shift in the federal government’s attitude toward a drug it once viewed as a menace to public health." Giving states the right to regulate marijuana laws, "the federal government could reduce jail populations and legal backlogs, create thousands of jobs, and replenish state coffers with marijuana taxes."
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