Pot Legalization Proceeds in Key States with Feds Mostly Silent

The Obama administration’s relative silence on moves to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington has left officials in those Western states unsure how to move forward without running afoul of the U.S. federal government.

But change is already afoot when it comes to how the two states and local authorities deal with marijuana.

Prosecutors in Washington state’s two most populous counties, encompassing Seattle and Tacoma, and in Colorado’s Boulder County are already dropping pot possession cases after state voters chose to legalize pot for recreational adult use.

Washington and Colorado became the first states in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana on November 6, putting both on a possible collision course with the federal government, which says pot remains an illegal narcotic under U.S. law. A similar move to legalize pot in Oregon failed.

Elsewhere, a pair of lawmakers in Maine and Rhode Island plan to introduce legislation to regulate and tax pot sales.

Colorado and Washington could eventually be forced to spend millions of dollars combined to establish bureaucracies to oversee marijuana sales – funds that might be at risk in any federal crackdown. But if legalization goes ahead, the states could also reap a tax windfall.

Because the drug remains illegal under federal law, state officials say they are looking to the U.S. Department of Justice for guidance.

“I think they’re taking it seriously, and my hope is they really do say something definitive,” Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said in a phone interview.

Suthers, a Republican, said one of the Obama administration’s options would be to tell Colorado officials to “proceed at your own risk” with legalization, but he added that would put his state in a tough spot if the federal government later changes course.

“It would be an expenditure of time and effort that I prefer not to do, if in fact the federal government is going to take an aggressive posture,” Suthers said.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and Suthers asked if the federal government would sue to block legalization or if U.S. officials would view state employees who oversee the pot trade as “acting in violation of federal law.”

Washington’s Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire, who opted not to run for re-election and whose term ends in January, said she met this week with Deputy Attorney General James Cole to discuss legalization in her state.

– Read the entire article at Reuters.