Justice Department to limit role in state marijuana laws

The federal government announced Thursday that it will not try to pre-empt laws in states, including Connecticut, that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use as long as the law is strictly enforced.

The memo sent to all 50 states reiterated that the federal government still considers the drug illegal, but will not intervene if the state program is tightly regulated and well funded.

The Department of Justice announcement comes just two days after a state legislative panel approved comprehensive regulations to govern Connecticut’s medical marijuana program. The new stance should help ease some legislators’ worries about conflicts with federal law.

“It certainly puts to rest any concerns about our law concerning medical marijuana,” said Michael Lawlor, state Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning.

State Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein, whose department oversees the state’s medical marijuana program, said Thursday that the state made sure that Connecticut’s law was comprehensive and had enough strict oversight to avoid federal intervention.

Lawlor said he wasn’t surprised by the new federal stance, particularly after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent announcement that federal prosecutors should no longer give mandatory minimum sentences to low-risk, nonviolent drug offenders.

“It’s another indication how public opinion and public policy are changing nationally for low-level drug offenders,” he said.

Lawlor pointed out that Connecticut has taken this tact for a few years. He said one of the first bills Gov. Dannel P. Malloy promoted was to decriminalize less than a half ounce of marijuana in Connecticut.

“It’s no longer a crime. It’s more like a parking ticket,” he said.

The announcement specifically names Colorado and Washington, which decriminalized less than 1 ounce of marijuana last November, but applies to all states that have passed their own marijuana laws.

The memo identifies several areas related to the drug that federal prosecutors should prioritize, including preventing distribution to minors; preventing distribution from states where it is legal under state law to other states; preventing revenue from sales going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels; and preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use.

 

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