Residents in Colorado and Washington might want to think about stocking up on Cheetos or goldfish.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday it will not move to challenge laws that legalized small amounts of marijuana in those states as long as a strict regulatory system is in place.
The long-awaited decision at Main Justice clears the air for governors in those states who wanted to implement voter-approved marijuana legislation that was in conflict with federal law, which considers marijuana a dangerous drug. "Don't break out the Cheetos or goldfish too quickly," Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said after the November vote approving the measure in his state.
The Justice Department's issuance of guidance for federal prosecutors comes just three days after the Senate Judiciary Committee announced it would hold a hearing in September focused on the issue. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has invited Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to testify on how they will handle the conflict in the two states, as well as 20 states and Washington D.C. that have approved medical marijuana laws.
The department's guidance to prosecutors, Cole wrote today, "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" to address public safety and health.
Federal law enforcement priorities include preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where the drug is legal to those states where it is not, Cole wrote. The government also seeks to prevent "state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for trafficking of other illegal drugs."
"A system adequate to that task must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice," Cole wrote. State and local governments, he added, must provide "the necessary resources and demonstrate the willingness to enforce their laws and regulations in a manner than ensures they do not undermine federal enforcement priorities."