Has the U.S. Justice Department given approval for Colorado and Washington to move forward with implementing legal marijuana sales to adults over 21 by simply not saying “no”?
Colorado and Washington officials seem to think so, according to reports released this week from Talking Points Memo and the Huffington Post.
Colorado State Sen. Pat Steadman tells TPM that he feels Colorado has received “tacit approval at this point” to move forward with creating and implementing laws around recreational cannabis sales. Public hearing on the state’s proposed rules is taking place this week at the state capital and local municipality rules have to be in place by October 1. Public sales could start as early as January 1.
They feel the same way in Washington, apparently. The state has been moving forward with lawmaking around Imitative 502, which legalized the sale and possession of limited amounts of cannabis to adults over 21. Like Colorado, Washington is in the middle of rule making and implementation. The state is planning to begin accepting applications December 1.
“They’ve not indicated that they’re going to try to stop us,” a spokesman for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “We’re operating as if this is a go, and we haven’t been told otherwise.”
|Attorney General Eric Holder.
Another unnamed source that is “directly involved with conversations with the [DOJ]” in Colorado agrees and tells TPM that the Justice Department is well aware of what is going on in Colorado. Not only are they able to follow the public rulemaking sessions and news reports, the source is keeping them updated. “They’re well aware of what we’ve been up to,” the source said. “I do think that it’s fair to say that we have their tacit approval at this point.”
For their part, the DOJ has remained silent over the last few months. Attorney General Eric Holder in February promised that a response to Washington and Colorado laws was coming soon. Apparently Holder is moving on government time. The most recent update from the DOJ? “The department continues to review the initiatives in Washington and Colorado,” Justice Department spokesperson Allison Price told TPM this week.
And while both states seem to have been lulled into a sense of security (false or real), they aren’t completely blind to the obvious: the DOJ could sue at any time.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson this week said he has compiled a legal team and told them to “prepare for a worst-case scenario”. But Ferguson also points out that he’s unsure if that lawsuit will come.
“From our standpoint, as the federal government knows, we’re moving forward with the regulatory framework around legalizing marijuana, and we look forward to having that wrapped up by the end of the year,” Ferguson told Huffington Post. “We’re on schedule to meet our deadline and uphold the will of the voters.”
All of this progress is a good sign to Dan Riffle, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project. He tells TPM that every day that passes without federal intervention makes the argument for regulated cannabis that much stronger.
“If they were really going to take action and stop states from implementing these laws, we would have heard about it by now.”
Of course, this is the same Justice Department that has been raiding marijuana dispensaries and providers over the last few years despite promises to make medical cannabis a low priority for federal prosecutors. Then again, some people never would have thought open, public medical marijuana dispensaries would be allowed to operate at all and there are currently hundreds open across the U.S. every day.