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Nation/World

August 31, 2013

US gives states green light to legalize marijuana

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Sen. Chuck Grassley, R- Iowa, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and cochairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, called the administration’s decision the latest example of selective law enforcement.

“The administration is now effectively instructing law enforcement not to prioritize the prosecution of the large-scale distribution and sale of marijuana in certain states,” Grassley said late Thursday. “Apprehending and prosecuting illegal drug traffickers should always be a priority for the Department of Justice.”

Last December, President Barack Obama said it doesn’t make sense for the federal government to go after recreational drug users in a state that has legalized marijuana. Last week, the White House said that prosecution of drug traffickers remains an important priority.

A Pew Research Center poll in March found that 60 percent of Americans think the federal government shouldn’t enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states where its use has been approved. Younger people, who tend to vote more Democratic, are especially prone to that view. But opponents are worried these moves will lead to more use by young people. Colorado and Washington were states that helped re-elect Obama.

Advocates of medical marijuana were cautious about the new policy. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that effectively allow patients to access and use medical marijuana. Threats of criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture by U.S. attorneys have closed more than 600 dispensaries in California, Colorado and Washington over the past two years, said Americans for Safe Access, which advocates for safe and legal access to therapeutic cannabis.

Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization, called the policy change “a major and historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition” and “a clear signal that states are free to determine their own policies.”

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