The U.S. Department of Justice issued a reminder that under federal laws marijuana is still illegal. The Department will still enforce the Controlled Substances Act even in states that have now made marijuana legal for recreational use.
Although Washington and Colorado have passed ballot measures legalizing the use of marijuana for recreation, the Department of Justice sent out a reminder that the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act will remain unchanged: "The Department's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. We are reviewing the ballot initiatives and have no additional comment at this time."
Colorado governor Hickenlooper had opposed the ballot measure.also warned citizens of the state that the new state law conflicted with federal law. He said: "Federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly."
The two states made history on Tuesday as both removed all civil and criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana. The states now need to set up a regulatory system to sell and tax the drug. While a number of states, including California, have decriminalized or legalized pot for medicinal use, this is the first time a move to legalize pot for recreational use has passed. In 2010 a major effort at legalization failed in California.
The conflict of laws can create a clash between states where marijuana is legal and the federal enforcement agencies. In 2009 the Department of Justice wrote a memo stating that enforcement of drugs laws would be a low priority in states where medical marijuana had been made legal.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration has allowed federal raids to continue on dispensaries in many states, and the DOJ has not even promised to cease cracking down on recreational distribution of pot. So the stage is set for even more conflict.
While the federal government may be unable to force states to criminalize possession of marijuana or force them to enforce federal law, experts claim that federal law enforcement agents can still arrest and lay charges against growers, sellers, and even users of marijuana.
The Colorado law will allow adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use, or six marijuana plants. The Washington State, Initiative 502, will legalize production, distribution, and possession of marijuana for residents 21 and older. There will be a 25% tax when the grower sells the pot to the processor, and when it is sold in turn to the retailer, and finally to the customer. Although this is calculated to bring a half billion in revenue critics dispute this figure. We will see whether Obama makes any move to call off his federal enforcers or whether the war on drugs will continue unabated.