Federal and State Laws: How Can the Two Conflict?

Tara Tedrow

I am often questioned as to how states can permit medical and recreational marijuana in light of federal prohibitions on any form of marijuana possession, sale or use. If marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I drug under federal law, why aren’t potpreneurs and users being locked up en masse? This is thanks mainly to guidance provided by the Department of Justice, commonly known as the Cole Memorandum. Under this Memorandum, DOJ acknowledged the illegality and potential public policy concerns associated with marijuana. However, let’s call a spade a spade. There aren’t enough funds or resources for the federal government to shut down all of the marijuana dispensaries, cultivation facilities and medical clinics, and there certainly aren’t enough to try and throw all of the users in jail. Without the support (perhaps financial, but most likely political) necessary to stand up to the states’ marijuana programs, DOJ instead outlined its eight enforcement priorities:

  1. Prevent distribution of marijuana to minors;

  2. Prevent marijuana revenue from funding criminal enterprises, gangs or cartels;

  3. Prevent marijuana from moving out of states where it is legal;

  4. Prevent use of state-legal marijuana sales as a cover for illegal activity;

  5. Prevent violence and use of firearms in growing or distributing marijuana;

  6. Prevent drugged driving or exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;

  7. Prevent growing marijuana on public lands; and

  8. Prevent marijuana possession or use on federal property.

Those eight guidelines, issued to DOJ attorneys and law enforcement officials, are to serve as guidance regarding marijuana prosecution and enforcement. Many have speculated that the hard-line opposition expressed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions would dismantle the Cole Memorandum’s hands off stance, but as it stands now, the speculation remains just that.

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