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Aug 29, 2013 11:39 PM by Tony Spehar -

Department of Justice will not challenge Amendment 64

The federal government will not challenge Amendment 64, which legalized the sale and use of recreational marijuana in Colorado, according to Department of Justice memo released on Thursday.

The DOJ memo instructed US attorneys that going after pot users for simple possession isn't a good use of the agency's resources. Instead, eight areas of enforcement will become the focus of operations. The agency will now focus on keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors, preventing money from sales from going to criminal organizations, preventing marijuana from states where it is legal from getting into states where it is not, keeping legal sales from involving trafficking illegal drugs, stopping violence related to growing and selling pot, protecting public safety and making sure marijuana is not grown on public land or used on federal property.

"The Department's guidance in this memorandum rests on its expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health and other law enforcements issues," the DOJ memo read.

The release of the guidelines spurred a night of celebration at KC Stark's pot smoking club Studio A64 in downtown Colorado Springs.

"Really a historic seismic shift in American drug war policy, there's nothing minimal about it," Stark explained. "I was hoping for it for a lifetime, but I wasn't expecting it so fast."

While the DOJ will not go after individual users and will allow Colorado to go forward with recreational sales, they will be enforcing marijuana laws that violate the eight enforcement priorities. Of particular interest to the Drug Enforcement Administration is trying to block the trafficking of Colorado marijuana to other states.

"Marijuana is still a dangerous drug and its possession and distribution is still a federal crime," explained Special Agent Albert Villasuso of the DEA's Denver office. "We've now become known as a source state, so we will look at organizations that are doing that and those are significant drug traffickers."

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said the federal guidelines were overdue, but hailed them for mirroring the concerns of state leaders.

"I think they're the concerns that we all share, preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing to the extent possible diversion of marijuana out of state and preventing criminal elements from remaining in the marijuana trade," Suthers told News 5.

However, Suthers said Colorado is now under great pressure to tightly regulate retail marijuana sales and the growing of pot in a way that follows the new guidelines. The DOJ can exercise its right to pre-empt state law and challenge Amendment 64 if problems arise.

"The federal government is saying 'we expect you to have a very vibrant, effective regulatory scheme and we're going to be watching,'" Suthers explained.

Amendment 64 mandates that recreational marijuana sales begin by January 2014.


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