Obama Administration Speaks Out on Marijuana Ballot Measures: Federal Raids Are Here to Stay


Marijuana policy reformers have been waiting for the Obama administration to acknowledge and respond to the ballot initiatives in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington that would legalize marijuana for recreational use. This weekend, CBS got them their answer: Nothing is going to change.

In his interview with 60 Minutes, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole (See Jacob Sullum on Cole's notorious medical marijuana memo) had this exchange with CBS' Steve Kroft:

James Cole: Our focus is really on keeping it away from children. Our focus is keeping it out of the hands of organized crime. Our focus is making sure that people aren't, through marijuana dispensaries, using it as a pretext to do large-scale interstate drug dealing. These are the areas where we're really trying to focus.

Steve Kroft: So the message is, if you're licensed in the state of Colorado and you follow the law, then you should be okay.

James Cole: Each case is going to rise and fall on its own unique facts. Any of that is still in violation of the Controlled Substances Act of the federal law. We're not interested in bothering people who are sick and are using it in the recommendation of a doctor. We are concerned with people who are using it as a pretext to become large-scale drug dealers.

You can tell from his questions that Kroft badly wants to believe the Obama administration is cool with Colorado having legal pot. He even segues into the Cole interview by saying that Boulder County DA Stan Garnett's reluctance to prosecute medical marijuana "is more or less the position of Justice Department in Washington."

But if Cole is not actually saying anything different than what he's said in the past, then the DOJ will continue to go after medical (and soon, perhaps, non-medical) marijuana dispensaries with large client lists, because these are what Cole is referring to when he says "large-scale drug dealers." Not cartels or drug rings, but dispensaries.

If history is any guide, we'll see more federal raids in Colorado and Washington if recreational marijuana is legalized, because we'll most definitely see more "large-scale drug dealing," AKA state-legal businesses selling to consumers in an open, state-legal market.