The U.S. Attorney’s office in Seattle issued a statement today reiterating its responsibility to enforce federal drug laws, a day before Washington state’s new law legalizing marijuana takes effect.
The Justice Department’s “responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged,” said the statement from the office of U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer called it a “brief, grumpy and restrained warning.” But there was also plenty to read between the lines.
The statement stressed that Congress has classified marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. “Neither States nor the Executive Branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress,” the statement said. (In other words, our hands are tied?)
Of course, the executive branch can simply refuse to enforce a federal law, but there usually has to be a good reason. When the Justice Department refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage for federal purposes as between a man and a woman, it was because it had concluded that law was unconstitutional.
So far, there is no constitutional right to get high. But a former U.S. Attorney in Seattle, John MacKay, a Republican, has been at the forefront of efforts to legalize pot, arguing that enforcing the law against it is a poor use of law enforcement resources and that its black market status helps keep violent drug cartels in business.
The statement also advised the public that it remains against federal law “to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses.”
Here is the complete statement:
The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington State. The Department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither States nor the Executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6th in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses.