Marijuana may have been voted legal in Colorado and Washington on Tuesday, but the new laws will soon face the federal government in court, according to two former US drug control officials.
The two states are the first in the nation to legalize recreational use of marijuana, though federal still recognizes marijuana use as a criminal act, reports Reuters.
The two former officials have stated that the federal government will likely sue to block parts of the measures. They may also (or instead) send out threatening letters to marijuana shops, which would be followed by street-level enforcement of federal law.
Kevin Sabet, a former adviser to the Obama administration’s drug czar, stated:
“This is a symbolic victory for [legalization] advocates, but it will be short-lived. They are facing an uphill battle with implementing this, in the face of … presidential opposition and in the face of federal enforcement opposition.”
The New York Times notes that Colorado was the first of the two states to declare victory for the marijuana law, but Governor John Hickenlooper cautioned voters on Tuesday:
“Don’t break out the Cheetos or the Goldfish too quickly.”
A spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency simply stated on Wednesday that the Justice Department is reviewing both ballot measures and refused to comment on how officials will respond to them. The spokesman added, however, that the agency’s enforcement of federal drug laws “remains unchanged.”
The US attorneys in both Denver and Seattle gave a very similar statement when they were asked for comment, leaving the public in the dark on whether they plan to sue or not. Norm Stamper, a former Seattle police chief who was in support for the Washington measure, despite his disinterest in actually consuming the drug, stated:
“I don’t see DEA agents sweeping into Colorado and Washington and enforcing drug laws that were previously enforced by local agencies. It would be extremely poor politics. The will of the people has been expressed.”
The measures in for states still have to be certified, but, once they are, it will be legal in Colorado and Washington to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for those who are 21 or older. Residents in Colorado will be allowed to grow up to six plants while those in Washington will have to purchase theirs from state-licensed providers.
The measures in both states also set up regulations for growing industrial hemp, which is a fibrous plant containing minute traces of the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana. The laws still forbid people from lighting up a joint in public or driving while under the influence.