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Feds Change Position on Legal Weed

In a surprising announcement from the federal law enforcement, there is no intent to prosecute residents in states that have legalized marijuana. According to reporting at CNN, Attorney General Eric Holder, in a conference call Thursday morning, notified the governors of Colorado and Washington that the Department of Justice will not seek to preempt those states' laws.

This is important for Oregon because we came very close to legalizing marijuana on a ballot measure and will face the same issue next year. By allowing states to set the standard for marijuana, the DoJ has removed one barrier to passing similar law in Oregon.

The conference call from Holder doesn’t remake federal law – cannabis is still illegal under federal statutes. But prosecutors have discretion in which laws they will focus on and whether or not charges will be leveled in any particular case. The mechanism in play isn’t to ignore federal law, but to refer marijuana cases to state law enforcement instead, knowing that state laws will prevent prosecution.

The announcement has been long awaited and neither Washington nor Colorado knew which way the federal government would go. It’s also important to note that the situation could change in the future. Should either state turn into a “marijuana Mecca” or become a source of supply for the rest of the country, the issue may be revisited. Setting policy by way of fiat has the advantage of immediacy, but the disadvantage of impermanence. Holder, or his successor, could just as quickly decide to start enforcing federal statutes again.

With this new impetus, it is more likely that Oregon will legalize marijuana for recreational use as well. However, while urban voters strongly favor legal weed in our state, rural voters trend the other way and the final vote tally is less than certain. Expect advocates of legalization to press hard in the coming months for passage.

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