Successful ballot initiatives in Washington and Oregon legalizing the recreational use of marijuana have set up a showdown with state governments and the Justice Department over federal drug laws.
The Justice Department has already suggested an unforgiving stance, saying, “the department’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.”
Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre told CBS News that officials are reviewing the ballot measures. Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh and Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan released identical statements, CBS noted. This may indicate that Main Justice will have to issue a new directive to its 93 U.S. Attorneys regarding how to handle similar state laws, which are superseded by the federal law banning marijuana use.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), who opposed the initiative, said he hopes to speak with Attorney General Eric Holder this week about the new law.
“My sense is that it is unlikely the federal government is going to allow states one by one to unilaterally decriminalize marijuana,” Hickenlooper said. “If the attorney general of the United States is willing to allow that to happen, and I would certainly point out the reasons why that makes sense, certainly then we have a longer discussion. Then we get back to looking at what are the details, how would we tax this, how would we create a regulatory environment that was robust and really held people accountable?
Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) also opposed the initiative in her state, which also establishes a blood test limit for driving under the influence of marijuana. The Colorado amendment allows people to grow up to six marijuana plants in a private area, according to the Associated Press. The Washington initiative passed with 55 percent of the vote, and by 54 percent in Colorado.
The Justice Department has recently created controversy for its crackdown on marijuana dispensaries in states with medical marijuana laws. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia currently allow the use of medical marijuana in certain circumstances. But federal law bars anyone from possessing the drug, which poses a predicament for the Justice Department. At the beginning of his term, President Barack Obama said his Justice Department would not waste resources on state law-abiding citizens. But in the last year, Western states have seen a major crackdown by U.S. Attorneys who say they are targeting dispensaries that act as fronts for activity beyond legal parameters set forth in the medical marijuana laws.