The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday said it will not stand in the way of voter-approved initiatives in Colorado and Washington to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Last November, voters in both states passed initiatives to allow the recreational use of marijuana; Oregon voters turned back a similar initiative. Regardless of the vote, marijuana remains “an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act and that federal prosecutors will continue to aggressively enforce this statute,” the Justice Department said.
However, the feds will focus their approach on eight “enforcement areas,” including the prevention of distribution to minors, officials said.
“Based on assurances that those states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system, the Department has informed the governors of both states that it is deferring its right to challenge their legalization laws at this time,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “But if any of the stated harms do materialize—either despite a strict regulatory scheme or because of the lack of one—federal prosecutors will act aggressively to bring individual prosecutions focused on federal enforcement priorities and the Department may challenge the regulatory scheme themselves in these states.”
The news was met with jubilation in Washington.
“We want to thank the Attorney General for working with the states on this and for finding a way that allows our initiative to move forward while maintaining a commitment to fighting illegal drugs,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a joint statement. “This reflects a balanced approach by the federal government that respects the states’ interests in implementing these laws and recognizes the federal government’s role in fighting illegal drugs and criminal activity.