Federal Government Takes a Hands-Off Approach to Recreational Marijuana Use
Obama Reacts to Colorado Legalizing Recreational Marijuana
Although President Barack Obama has confirmed that the federal government will not pursue recreational users of marijuana in the two states that have legalized it, some federal statutes will still be enforced. Similar hands-off treatment will be used by the federal government in the 18 states which have made medicinal marijuana legal.
Currently marijuana is illegal under federal law, and is classified as a Schedule I narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I narcotics are illegal to possess, cultivate, distribute, or use. Other narcotics classified under this category are heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
Colorado state law, under Amendment 64, makes recreational use of marijuana legal in almost the entire state, although there are a number of provisions. Adults over 21 can possess up to an ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to 6 plants, while medicinal users can possess up to two ounces of marijuana. Public consumption and selling or distributing marijuana is still illegal.
The federal government has no plans to intercede in Colorado and Washington regarding the legalized use of marijuana, but does have certain limitations. There are eight areas under which the Justice Department would step in to enforce federal laws, including distribution to minors, preventing marijuana from crossing state lines, and preventing sales from benefiting criminals engaged in other illicit activities.
President Obama, in an interview by ABC News’ Barbara Walters, commented that “We’ve got bigger fish to fry.” He added “It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal.” Obama did stress that this doesn’t mean he supports legalization, responding to a question on the topic by saying, “I wouldn’t go that far.”
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers indicated that the state would regulate the now-legalized marijuana so that federal intervention is not necessary. The United States Attorney for the District of Colorado, John Walsh, also indicated that the U.S. Attorney’s office would work with federal, state, and local agencies to ensure proper regulation.
Thus far, however, regulation has been a struggle within the state. An audit of Denver reported that agencies are understaffed and underfunded, with records of licensed vendors being incomplete. The report states that the Denver government doesn’t actually know how many marijuana dispensaries are in existence. The state has become a test-case for legalization, with many anti-marijuana advocates pointing to the struggle to regulate as proof of failure.
By Neil Charles