Despite the legalization of marijuana in Washington state and Colorado, Deputy Attorney General James Cole pledged to continue prosecuting anyone seeking to profit from the selling of marijuana.
“We are not giving immunity. We are not giving a free pass. We are not abdicating our responsibility,” Cole told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Federal authorities will continue to block the growing and distribution of cannabis, “whether the state has legalized it or not.”
So far the laws legalizing marijuana have not been challenged, but Cole said Justice Department officials “reserve the right … to challenge the state laws at a later time.”
Last month, the Justice Department said it would not pre-empt state laws if states enforced “robust” regulations to keep cannabis from impeding on the agency’s top priorities: keeping marijuana out of the hands of children and drug cartels.
Cole said marijuana providers who market the drug to children or attempt to sell it across state lines would be prosecuted.
Medical marijuana is legal in 21 states, but recreational use is only legal in two. In Colorado, even at-home pot plant cultivation is legal. Critics have said the passing of such laws would lead to rampart illegal activity, in addition to conflicts between state and federal laws.
“What we have in Washington is not the wild, wild West,” argued John Urquhart, a sheriff in Washington. “We all agree we don’t want our children using marijuana. We all agree we don’t want impaired drivers. We all agree we don’t want to continue enriching criminals.”
“Washington’s law honors these values by separating consumers from gangs,” he added.
Drug policy expert and a former White House official Kevin Sabet worried that would lead to the “creation of a Starbucks of marijuana.”
“Why would we open the floodgates?” Sabet asked.
Sabet said that relying on state’s to regulate pot ignores the DOJ’s statements that some marijuana operations have already violated federal enforcement priorities.
“I just don’t see any of that being regulated, and that’s what I worry about,” he said.