U.S. Drug Czar on Legal Pot in Colorado and Washington: It's "very clear that federal law will continue to be enforced"

Gil Kerlikowske tells Marketplace radio, "There are questions in front of the Department of Justice. They've made some statements, and it has been very clear that federal law will continue to be enforced."


Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske went on American Public Media's Marketplace Thursday to respond to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington state. 

"What really troubles me," Kerlikowske said, "is that in Washington state, which really prides itself on independence, it was $6 million of outside money that was raised in order to advocate for legalization. Pretty hard to compete against $6 million in outside money." 

(Kerlikowske is right that a lot of outside money went into funding Washington state's legalization campaign. But it wasn't all outside money, and it wasn't all big dollar contributions, as I detailed in The New Republic.) 

Interviewer Kai Ryssdal then asks Kerlikowske about the "change of heart" the Obama administration seems to have had about medical marijuana. "The president came in saying, in essence, 'We have better things to do with our time.' Now in the last two years, there has been more vigorous enforcement of drug control laws." 

Kerlikowske's response is that the federal government said it would not go after medical marijuana users, and has in fact not gone after them. But "there has been nothing that I have seen or heard from the Department of Justice that says 'Look we're not going to continue to enforce federal law,'" Kerlikowske said of medical marijuana growers and sellers. "And we're going to continue to take a hard look at those people who are involved in making money on essentially a violation of federal law."

Ryssdal then asks Kerlikowske the question on every drug reformer's lips: Will Washington crack down on legal pot in Colorado and Washington?

"There are questions in front of the Department of Justice," Kerlikowske said. "They've made some statements, and it has been very clear that federal law will continue to be enforced. And I think we'll wait and see what those decisions are from the attorney general and the Department of Justice." (Listen to the full interview here.)

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this about Colorado and Washington: "This is an ongoing debate. We are formulating our own response to the votes of two of our states as you know — what that means for the federal system, the federal laws and law enforcement."