In another enigmatic declaration (or was it just an echo from his interview with the Huffington Post back in April?), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder described his perspective on legal cannabis in Colorado and Washington as “cautiously optimistic” to CNN on Monday. While he was not exactly resolute in his support – he still referred to the situation as a “problem” – Holder acknowledged the benefit of keeping low priority “possessory offenses” off of federal dockets and seemed to indicate that this experiment hasn’t brought hellfire or natural disaster to the areas in question.
He reiterated that concentrating on the eight enforcement areas identified by the Justice Department in a memo last year continues to be an effective strategy for supervising states that allow recreational cannabis. These priorities for prevention include: the sale of cannabis to minors, violence and the use of firearms, transport of cannabis to states where it is not legal, and involvement of organized crime.
Holder put governors on notice, though, that if they don’t ensure strong regulatory systems, they will be sued by the feds. A reference to the “tough in practice, not just on paper” language outlined in the Justice Department’s August 2013 memo clarifying their position on states that have legalized marijuana, Holder suggested that “we’ll see” how carefully Colorado and Washington adhere to their obligation to strictly enforce statewide cannabis laws.
You might remember when Holder told Katie Couric of Yahoo! Global News last month that he was open to rescheduling marijuana, implying that science doesn’t support classifying it and drugs such as heroin in the same category. As a Schedule I controlled substance, cannabis is defined as having “no currently accepted medical use” and grouped among “the most dangerous drugs.” You might also remember that this proposition came just one day before Holder announced his resignation.
Though WRK is certainly relieved that AG Holder seems to have learned something about cannabis in his six years as a member of Obama’s cabinet, we’re seriously confused as to what took him so long. Why did he wait until he was on his way out to initiate conversations about rescheduling? And why, if he’s been “cautiously optimistic” for at least six months now, hasn’t that prompted him to look again at outdated and ineffective laws and regulations? We’re not sure what he has to gain by ever-so-slightly altering his stance now. It was well within his purview to reschedule the substance at any point during his tenure, and he didn’t. Why talk about it?
We suppose we too should be cautiously optimistic; he’s still the AG until the President appoints a new one. He could remove cannabis’ Schedule I status tomorrow. So, we’ll see.