Message to pot shops: Proceed cautiously
Last Updated: 12:45 September 3, 2013
In essence, the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday said it will focus its enforcement on illegal drug trafficking and not on marijuana businesses governed by state law.
While the new policy has no “force of law,” it seems to point toward future federal regulations being supportive of marijuana businesses in Colorado, said Jeff Gard, who said he counts the majority of Boulder County marijuana businesses among his clients. Gard is an attorney at Gard & Bond LLC in Boulder.
“The iceberg is thawing a bit,” Gard said. “We may not see it legalized federally for some time, but … one would hope that would be the next step.”
Future changes in the federal political climate could make the pendulum swing the other way, said David B. Harrison, an attorney and partner at Miller and Harrison LLC who has marijuana business clients. The new Department of Justice policy sends a signal to those who follow Colorado law that the federal government's stance on drugs appears to be changing, Harrison said.
“If they follow their policy, there won't be (as many) people for me to deal with,” Harrison said. “I'm not sure people should feel a lot more comfortable, though. It doesn't mean it can't change again.”
Federal enforcement agencies have gone back and forth about how they handle marijuana businesses in recent years in Colorado, both Gard and Harrison said. The federal policy follows voter approval in November of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado. Voters in Washington also passed a recreational-marijuana sales law last fall.
The legal sale of recreational marijuana is slated to begin in Colorado on Jan. 1. Cities around the state in the process of drafting sales tax policies and rules to govern marijuana sales. The state Department of Revenue has established policies governing the sale of recreational marijuana as well, since it remains illegal federally.
State law enforcement authorities welcome the federal policy, which focuses on enforcement in key areas, said Colorado Attorney General John Suthers in a press statement. State representatives will continue to develop regulations that are as “effective as possible under the dictates of Amendment 64,” Suthers said.
The Justice Department has said it will focus its enforcement efforts on marijuana trafficking to children, trafficking that involves violence or other federal criminal activity, trafficking conducted or financed by street gangs and drug cartels, cultivation of marijuana on public lands and trafficking across state and international lines.
Amendment 64, passed by Colorado voters last November, legalizes the use, possession and sale of less than 1 ounce of marijuana for adults 21 years or older.
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