The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Thursday announced [memorandum, PDF] that it will not interfere with states experimenting with marijuana legalization, so long as those jurisdictions practice strict regulatory schemes. Deputy Attorney General James Cole [official profile] issued a memorandum instructing federal prosecutors to focus their efforts only on conduct that interferes with any one of the DOJ's enforcement priorities, regardless of state law. Cole said that priorities of particular importance to the government include preventing marijuana distribution to minors, revenue to criminal enterprises and diversion to states where the drug remains illegal. This guidance is a change from the administration's previous policy that federal enforcement was appropriate for large-scale, for-profit commercial enterprises but not for medicinal use by those seriously ill. Cole stated:
[B]oth the existence of a strong and effective state regulatory system, and an operation's compliance with such a system, may allay the threat that an operation's size poses to federal enforcement interests. Accordingly, in exercising prosecutorial discretion, prosecutors should not consider the size or commercial nature of marijuana operation alone as a proxy for assessing whether marijuana trafficking implicates the Department's enforcement priorities.Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act [text].
Earlier this month Illinois Governor Pat Quinn [official website] signed [press release] House Bill 1 [text] into law, making Illinois the twenty-first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. In November Washington and Colorado legalized both medicinal and recreational use of the drug [JURIST report] via state ballot initiatives.