Washington state residents will be allowed starting Thursday to legally own and smoke marijuana, with Colorado soon to follow suit. But to the chagrin of state officials, the Justice Department remains silent on how it will deal with the changes that defy federal drug laws.
State and federal officials have been talking about what to do since residents voted Nov. 6 in support of referendums that allow adults to own up to one ounce of marijuana and eventually allow for pot – like alcohol-- to be regulated and sold in stores.
The Justice Department has said only that enforcement of the federal Controlled Substances Act "remains unchanged." And on Monday, a Justice Department spokesman told FoxNews.com the agency’s position “still stands.”
Unclear is whether the feds would aggressively enforce that law. The conflict between federal law on medical marijuana and state laws in places like California has previously led to confusion, with the state sanctioning the drugs and federal agents nevertheless raiding medical marijuana businesses.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, met with Deputy Attorney General James Cole but was told the changes remain under review.
Colorado, which approved a similar referendum on Election Day with changes taking effect Jan. 6, also is awaiting guidance from Attorney General Eric Holder.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper talked with Holder by phone Nov. 9, and then sent a follow-up letter several days later that stated in part: “We need to know whether we can expect any different posture regarding marijuana grown and distributed for recreational use.”
Hickenlooper’s office confirmed Monday morning that the Justice Department has yet to respond.
Amendment 64 allows people 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, grow six pot plants and over the long-term allows for stores to sell it to recreational users. The state legislature still has to establish rules and a new system for licensing and revenue collection. However, criminal penalties for possession of small amounts will be lifted.
Hickenlooper opposed the referendum and has suggested “chaos” will ensue if states continue to make their own rules and the federal government takes no action.
Meanwhile, advocates are reportedly planning a "smoke-out" Thursday in downtown Seattle where they intend to openly carry their pot. And county prosecutors have begun dismissing misdemeanor, pot-related cases.
The Colorado governor’s office had no information about such cases, saying they are being handled on a local level by elected district attorneys.