Marijuana took a giant step toward legalization today with the announcement from the Department of Justice. PHOTO: Reuters
The Department of Justice made an historic announcement today: laws in Colorado and Washington State legalizing marijuana for recreational use will be allowed to go into effect. In 2012, both Colorado and Washington voted on ballot referenda to legalize marijuana, setting up a direct conflict with the federal government over cannabis, which federally is still listed as a Schedule I drug, meaning it is considered both dangerous and medically useless (which is clearly false).
Marijuana is an issue where the politics (tough on crime is always a safer position) conflicted with common sense and the stated beliefs of Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama (that the War on Drugs is a harmful waste of money). In Obama’s second term, we have seen a less restricted and conservative Obama and Holder, and today’s momentous announcement is the biggest sign of that.
Marijuana still has the Schedule I listing, but the Department of Justice has announced a major shift in policy: instead of policing marijuana, including through busting up medical marijuana dispensaries, they will now take a “trust but verify” approach. This method was outlined in a memo by Deputy Attorney General James Cole distributed to all fifty state Attorneys General:
“In jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form and that have also implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale and possession of marijuana, conduct in compliance with those laws and regulations is less likely to threaten the federal priorities set forth above. Indeed, a robust system may affirmatively address these priorities[.]”
The specific priorities laid out by the DOJ are to prevent:
1) Sale of marijuana to minors
2) Revenue from marijuana going to gangs and cartels
3) Movement of marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it is illegal
4) Legal marijuana being used as a cover for the sale and trafficking of illegal drugs
5) Violence and firearm use in the cultivating and distribution of marijuana
6) Driving while high, and other public health issues around marijuana use
7) Growing marijuana on public lands
8) Use of marijuana on federal property
Most of these priorities are actually addressed by legalizing marijuana, something that Cole alluded to in his memo. It seems that our nation’s top lawyers are just as aware as most Americans that criminalizing marijuana has done much more harm than good.