White House breaks silence on Colorado and Washington’s new weed laws

Washington’s new legal weed laws go into effect today. Last night, the Obama Administration finally broke its silence on marijuana’s new state-level legal status in Washington and in Colorado, where it’ll officially become legal in a few weeks.

The problem is that the Justice Department spoke without really saying anything.

“Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on Dec. 6 in Washington state, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law,” the DOJ said last night. “The department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.”

We all know that Colorado and Washington’s laws are moot in reality since federal law that makes marijuana illegal trumps the state-level decision—just saying weed is now legal in these states doesn’t make it actually legal in principal. But it does make it legal in practice, because the instance of a regular person getting busted by federal DEA foot soldiers for carrying a joint are exceedingly rare. What matters isn’t the principal of whether the federal government recognizes weed as legal—it’s how far they’re willing to go to enforce it at the local level.

In his first term the Obama administration took unprecedented steps to send Feds into California to bust marijuana dispensaries that are legal at the state level. By all counts this goes above and beyond the normal reach of the federal government’s involvement in enforcing drug laws. What they didn’t say in their statement last night is how aggressively they’ll be in combatting the sale and use of weed with federal agents in Washington and Colorado. They could pull out all the stops and launch a full-on weed war, or they could hang back and insist that pot is illegal in principal while allowing it to be legal in practice in those states.

I guess there’s only one way to find out. Anyone got a lighter?