Criminal Defense Blog

DOJ’s new perspective on marijuana enforcement

As I mentioned in my last blog and as you’ve no doubt heard by now, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced potentially far-reaching changes in federal criminal law enforcement. This blog looks at the Department of Justice’s position on marijuana.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday and sent a memo to all U.S. Attorneys relating to the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in the numerous states where marijuana is now legal in some form. In 21 states and the District of Columbia, marijuana has been legalized for medical purposes. In two states, Colorado and Washington, recreational use of marijuana is legal.

Cole acknowledged that “state laws that endeavor to authorize marijuana production, distribution, and possession” should influence federal authorities’ approach to marijuana enforcement. In particular, where states that have legalized marijuana have “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems,” the federal government will not get involved. Regulation of marijuana activities will be left up to those states. On the other hand, where states that have legalized marijuana do not have enough regulations to prevent certain harms from flourishing the federal government may still crack down. The Cole memo identified the particular evils in which the federal government is interested:

– Preventing distribution of marijuana to minors;
– Preventing revenue from marijuana sales from supporting illegal gangs and drug cartels;
– Preventing diversion of marijuana to states where it is illegal;
– Preventing violence in the cultivation and trafficking of marijuana;
– Preventing drugged driving and other health hazards;
– Preventing marijuana cultivation on public land;
– Preventing possession of marijuana on federal property.

Legislators and pot advocates in California will probably be examining state marijuana law to ensure that it adequately meet the above federal priorities. Doing so will be the best way to stave off federal government interference in marijuana activity.

The opinions and information in this blog are not intended to be legal advice, and are not a substitute for obtaining advice from a qualified attorney about your particular matter.