The “enforcement priorities that are particularly important to the federal government” include: preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors; preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels; preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states; preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity; preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana; preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use; preventing growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
As long as those principles are enforced, the memo suggests, states have flexibility in drawing up and enforcing their own marijuana laws. That is a change that had marijuana advocates cheering on Thursday.
“It’s nice to hear that the Obama administration doesn’t at this point intend to file a lawsuit to overturn the will of the voters in states that have opted to modernize their marijuana policies,” said the chairman of Marijuana Majority, Tom Angell. “But it remains to be seen how individual U.S. attorneys will interpret the new guidance and whether they will continue their efforts to close down marijuana businesses that are operating in accordance with state law.”
The DOJ memo instructs prosecutors that they “should not consider the size or commercial nature of a marijuana operation alone as a proxy for assessing whether marijuana trafficking implicates the Department’s enforcement priorities.”
Angell said it was “significant” that U.S. attorneys would no longer be able to use the size or profitability of a legal marijuana business to determine whether or not it should be a target for prosecution, but he said the guidelines “seem to leave some leeway for the feds to continue making it hard for state-legal marijuana providers to do business.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.