The United States Department of Justice announced Thursday that for the time being it will cease pursuing actions against Colorado and Washington over discrepancies in state and federal marijuana policies. The department also issued a memo to U.S. Attorneys with new guidelines for the pursuit of marijuana cases. According to CBS News, Attorney General Eric Holder telephoned Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) around noon on Thursday to inform them that the federal government intends to allow the states to continue with their decriminalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use.
Raw Story spoke to Amanda Reiman, California policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, who said that Thursday's news is a major win for not just Colorado and Washington, but for all states that are trying to reform their marijuana policies.
"This also has major implications for the 20 states that allow medical marijuana," Reiman explained. "The Department of Justice has also directed U.S. Attorneys not to interfere with states that have medical marijuana. Instead the department is going to concentrate on diversion to minors, trafficking, marijuana being used as a front for other activities or diversion into states where it is not allowed."
When asked what this could mean in terms of dispensaries that have been targeted by the federal government and are currently embroiled in legal action, Reiman said, "What it should mean is that dispensaries in California that are operating within the the confines of state law and their local law should not be subject to federal interference."
"Our work continues," Reiman said. "We've been working since November 2012 on the Colorado and Washington initiatives. Having victories in those states is important, but as you can see, we've been working since the laws were passed in November to get the federal government to respect the rights of the voters in those states. Today has really opened up the field for states that want to change their marijuana laws as well."
One hurdle to national decriminalization of marijuana is the fact that the Department of Health and Human Services, in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration, classified marijuana in 1972 as a Schedule I narcotic. A Schedule I drug is considered to have no medical use, to have a high potential for abuse and to be too dangerous to be used even under medical supervision.
Drug policy reform advocates have been petitioning to have marijuana moved from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug since 1972, but HHS insists that more research is needed on marijuana.
"But the Catch-22 is that marijuana is a Schedule I drug," Reiman said. "And a part of that deal is it prevents research from being done on it."
However, with regard to Thursday's announcement, Reiman said, "This is really good news. Fighting this fight in marijuana reform, a lot of times it's one step forward and two steps back and I really honestly feel we made a giant leap forward today and that does not happen often. So I hope people enjoy this victory...then get back to work!"
The federal government did reserve the right to enact new laws in the future, however, adding in its memo that "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."
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