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What Does the Federal Response to Legalized Marijuana Mean? Is a Showdown Likely?

It's states vs. federal government.
(Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

In a very broadly worded statement, the U.S. Attorney essentially told Washington and Colorado, “Just hold on a minute here” when it comes to marijuana.Many people were waiting to hear the federal response to the passage of I-502 legalizing the possession of up to one ounce of the drug and the establishment of state-controlled businesses for growing, harvesting, distributing and selling the drug. Here’s it is:

“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 Dec. 6 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.”

Here’s how WE interpret the statement.

  • Go ahead and implement your system; we will still prosecute those who grow, sell, distribute or purchase and use the drug.
  • It doesn’t matter what the states do, federal law supersedes it.

Without specific details to provide clarity, we can only assume litigation and prosecution will be forthcoming.

We believe Washington and Colorado will serve as test cases for how well a state can take on the federal government. This isn’t really any different than Arizona trying to pass or enforce its own immigration laws. We saw how quickly Attorney General Eric Holder tried to slap down Gov. Jan Brewer and her state’s efforts to deal with exploding problem of illegal immigration there.

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