Marijuana Legalization in Colorado and Washington: Will the Federal Government Crack Down?


The Judicial branch here in California has been dealing with the fallout as the federal government tangles with state and municipal governments over marijuana law. The U.S. Attorney’s Office brought cases against multiple dispensaries and other marijuana businesses that appeared to operate legally under state regulations. After the legalization models of marijuana were accepted by Colorado and Washington voters this November, now the question is if the Executive and Legislative branches of the Federal government will formulate coherent policy that will allow cannabis businesses to operate and local governments to formulate regulations that make sense for their communities.

On Friday, President Obama appeared with Barbara Walters and spoke briefly about his stance and basically reiterated his previous positions. At this point, he said, in Washington and Colorado, we’ve seen the voters speak. He reiterated that it doesn’t make sense from a prioritization point of view to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that marijuana is legal.  

This may sound promising to legalization advocates but it isn’t really different from what he has been saying all along. Howevver, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (a Democrat from Vermont) sent a letter on Thursday to Director Gil Kerlikowske of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.  In the letter, Leahy asks the questions on many people’s minds:

How does the Office of National Drug Control Policy intend to prioritize Federal resources, and what recommendations are you making to the Department of Justice and other agencies in light of the choice by citizens of Colorado and Washington to legalize personal use of small amounts of  marijuana? What assurance can and will the administration give to state officials involved in the licensing of marijuana retailers that they will not face Federal criminal penalties for carrying out duties assigned to them under state law?

Leahy states that there are legislative responses to “resolve the differences between Federal and state law.”  He offers one such solution—“One option would be to amend the Federal Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law.”

Leahy is having hearings early next year looking into the response of the federal government towards the two states that have voted in legalization models. The next move is up to either the Legislative Branch or the Executive Branch  to develop policies that either support the voters’ decisions in Washington and Colorado or seek to overturn them.


Hat tip to reader Phineas Homestone for pointing out several articles that were helpful.



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