Attorney General

Pot-permissive states won't be sued by the Justice Department

The U.S. Justice Department has announced it won’t challenge laws in Colorado and Washington that allow the recreational use of marijuana, even though the drug remains illegal under federal law.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a memo to U.S. attorneys that the decision was based on “limited prosecutorial resources.” He said prosecutors should focus on eight areas of enforcement, rather than target individual users. Those areas include keeping the drug out of the hands of minors, out of states where it remains illegal, and its sales revenues away from criminal enterprises. The New York Times and the Washington Post have stories.

Colorado and Washington permit possession of small amounts of marijuana. According to the Times, 18 others and Washington, D.C., allow medical marijuana. The Post, however, says 20 states and D.C. have passed laws allowing medical marijuana.

The memo says marijuana dispensaries will not be targeted based on large-scale or for-profit operations. But federal prosecutors will be watching as states adopt regulations for marijuana operations, and the United States could challenge the regulatory structure if it is inadequate.

University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin told the Post that the memo left several questions unanswered, including whether banks can be prosecuted for extending credit to marijuana operations.

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