Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration rejected a petition by medical marijuana advocates to change the classification, which kept marijuana in the same category as drugs such as heroin. Reclassification of marijuana could open the door for more research into its medical use, so marijuana activists consider reclassification a major step.
Marijuana advocates hope the federal government maintains its current posture of mostly ignoring states that flout federal law by allowing medical use under certain circumstances.
The U.S. government has cracked down during the past two years on more than 500 marijuana dispensaries in several states, but no one has faced federal prosecution for personal use.
“It would certainly be a travesty if the Obama administration used its power to impose marijuana prohibition upon a state whose people have declared, through the democratic process, that they want it to end,” said Brian Vicente, co-author of Colorado’s marijuana measure.
Earlier this week, Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said enforcement of the federal Controlled Substances Act remained unchanged.
“In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance,” Chitre said. “We are reviewing the ballot initiative and have no additional comment at this time.”
Eric Brown, a spokesman for Hickenlooper, would not say whether the governor planned to disclose the details of his call with Holder.
If Colorado’s marijuana ballot measure is not blocked, it would take effect by Jan. 5, the deadline for the governor to add the amendment to the state constitution. The measure allows adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and six marijuana plants, though public use of the drug and driving while intoxicated are prohibited.
Colorado’s measure also directs lawmakers to write regulations on how pot can be sold, with commercial sales possible by 2014.
In Washington state, marijuana possession of an ounce or less would become legal on Dec. 6 if the measure is not blocked, though setting up a state-run sales operation would take a year.