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DENVER — The Justice Department will not seek to block the implementation of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington as long as the industry abides by state regulations.

FOX31 Denver has learned that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee earlier in the day to inform them of the decision and that the Justice Dept. will continue to enforce the Controlled Substances Act in both states.

A guidance is being issued to federal prosecutors in states with looser marijuana laws, marking a sweeping shift in the country’s marijuana policy.

The Justice Department outlined eight top priority areas for its enforcement of marijuana laws, including: preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors to preventing sales revenue from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels and preventing the diversion of marijuana outside of states where it is legal under state law.

“We recognize how difficult this issue has been for the Department of Justice and we appreciate the thoughtful approach it has taken,” said Hickenlooper in a statement. “Amendment 64 put Colorado in conflict with federal law. Today’s announcement shows the federal government is respecting the will of Colorado voters.


Colorado, and most recently Washington, have approved limited amounts of marijuana for recreational use. State officials have been anxious to hear how the federal government will handle the new laws.

“We share with the federal government its priorities going forward,” Hickenlooper continued. “We are working to improve education and prevention efforts directed at young people and on enforcement tools to prevent access to marijuana by those under 21 years of age.

“We are also determined to keep marijuana businesses from being fronts for criminal enterprises or other illegal activity, and we are committed to preventing the exportation of marijuana out of Colorado while also enhancing efforts to keep state roads safer from impaired drivers.”

Under federal law marijuana possession, cultivation and distribution is illegal.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado will continue to focus its marijuana enforcement efforts on the investigation and prosecution of cases that implicate the key federal public safety interests highlighted in the today’s Department of Justice guidance,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh in a statement.

“The key federal interests set forth in that guidance are also key interests of the people of Colorado. Of particular concern to the U.S. Attorney’s Office are cases involving marijuana trafficking directly or indirectly to children and young people; trafficking that involves violence or other federal criminal activity; trafficking conducted or financed by street gangs and drug cartels; cultivation of marijuana on Colorado’s extensive state and federal public lands; and trafficking across state and international lines.

“In addition, because the Department of Justice’s guidance emphasizes the central importance of strong and effective state marijuana regulatory systems, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to focus on whether Colorado’s system, when it is implemented, has the resources and tools necessary to protect those key federal public safety interests. To accomplish these goals, we look forward to closely working with our federal, state and local partners.”

“It’s exciting that Colorado is going to be given an opportunity to have this program work,” said Mike Elliott, who represents the Medical Marijuana Industry Group. “We’ve shown with the medical program that we can enhance public safety while addressing serious medical concerns of some very sick people.

“This is an opportunity to show the rest of the country that this can work in a very effective, safe way. The robust regulations Colorado is putting in place very much address the concerns outlined by the federal government.”

Earlier this year, the Congressional Research Service wrote a report saying the federal government would likely be limited in its ability to force states to adopt criminal laws because of the 10th Amendment.

“Under the Supremacy Clause, state laws that conflict with federal law are generally preempted and therefore void and without effect. Yet Congress intended that the CSA would not displace all state laws associated with controlled substances, as it wanted to preserve a role for the states in regulating controlled substances,” the report said.