- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Obama administration cleared the way Thursday for states to carry out their own marijuana laws, including allowing use for medical reasons in 20 states and for recreational use in Colorado and Washington — as long as they take steps to keep the drug away from children and criminal gangs.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told the governors of Washington and Colorado that he won’t sue to block their laws, though he will monitor them to make sure they impose stiff regulations on the burgeoning industry.

The Justice Department also issued new guidance to its prosecutors nationwide telling them to put average users at the low end of their priorities.

The moves create a patchwork of enforcement, but the states said it also marks a victory for federalism by giving each of them a chance to experiment and find policies that work.

“We want to show how it’s done, and done right,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who said the final agreement represents a balance that protects individual users but still targets serious drug gangs.

** FILE ** Mike Steenhout, comptroller of Washington state's Liquor Control Board, takes photos as he tours a marijuana growing facility in Seattle on Thursday, April 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
** FILE ** Mike Steenhout, comptroller of Washington state’s Liquor Control Board, ... more >

But opponents said the administration was surrendering on a key part of federal law.

“This sends the wrong message to both law enforcement and violators of federal law,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Apprehending and prosecuting illegal drug traffickers should always be a priority for the Department of Justice.”

The marijuana decision was one of a series of momentous policies the Obama administration announced Thursday.

The Treasury Department said legally married gay couples now will file their taxes the same way other married couples do — complete with all the tax benefits and problems that stem from marriage.

At the White House, President Obama issued gun controls that would expand background checks to include guns registered to partnerships, and would ban private entities from reimporting surplus U.S. weapons sold or granted to foreign governments.

The marijuana policy has been in the works for nearly a year, after voters in Washington and Colorado passed referendums in November.

Mr. Holder promised to have a decision months ago, and the delay irked officials in both states.

“I remain mystified as to why it took so long,” said Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers, who said the overdue policy was “nevertheless welcome.”

State officials said there are still questions to be worked out.

Marijuana advocates were wary of the latest federal guidance, saying it still leaves the government a lot of latitude to intervene.

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