In a memo to federal prosecutors nationwide on Thursday, James M. Cole, the deputy attorney general, stated that the Justice Department would not sue to block marijuana laws enacted in the 20 states that have legalized marijuana for medical use. Until now there has been a lot of uncertainty about how the government would respond to state laws making it legal to use marijuana for medical or recreational use.
The memo also made it clear that the Justice Department expects all states to create and enforce regulations aimed at preventing medical marijuana sales to minors, interstate trafficking of marijuana, illegal cartel and gang activity, and violence and accidents involving the drug.
If federal prosecutors believe that a state’s controls are inadequate, “the federal government may seek to challenge the regulatory structure itself in addition to continuing to bring individual enforcement actions, including criminal prosecutions,” Mr. Cole wrote. “A system adequate to that task must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice.”
The decision on Thursday follows Mr. Holder’s announcement in August that federal prosecutors would no longer seek federal mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level nonviolent drug offenders.
Currently 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Washington and Colorado legalized the possession and consumption of marijuana for recreational use.