After voters in Colorado and Washington State voted for nullification to repeal marijuana prohibition, anxiety about how the Obama administration would respond spread nationwide as conservatives wondered whether federal authorities would respect the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment while liberals fretted about the will of voters. Concerns were especially widespread given the president’s ruthless persecution of the legal medical cannabis industry in over 20 states. In an August 29 announcement, however, Attorney General Eric Holder finally answered the question: The feds will apparently somewhat respect state laws, at least for now.
According to news reports citing unnamed “officials,” Holder informed the governors of the two states about the Justice Department’s decision over the phone on Thursday. According to media accounts, the embattled attorney general said the federal government would not seek to challenge the state-level nullification initiatives for the time being — assuming authorities implement regulatory regimes that would, among other points, keep the controversial plant out of the hands of minors. Also on the list of federal demands: Cannabis should not be diverted to states where prohibition remains in effect, it is not allowed on federal property, revenue from sales should not go to criminal enterprises, and more.
Critics of drug prohibition applauded the decision as major turning point. "Today's announcement by Eric Holder and the Department of Justice should be hailed as a victory for the 10th Amendment, states’ rights, and small-government proponents,” retired police Lieutenant Commander Diane Goldstein, a board member with the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), told The New American. “Just as it was the states that finally ended the failed experiment with alcohol prohibition, it is the states that are propelling radical shifts in our national drug policy today. It is long past due for our politicians and all the branches of our government to support this change."
However, despite the decision, the federal government is hardly taking a hands-off approach. In a memo sent to U.S. attorneys nationwide, Deputy Attorney General James Cole offered some insight as to the Justice Department’s agenda. "The Department's guidance in this memorandum rests on its expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health and other law enforcement interests," the document states. "A system adequate to that task must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice."
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