Feds Agree Not to Hassle Smallish Marijuana Vendors in Colorado and Washington

| Thu Aug. 29, 2013 2:09 PM EDT

We've all been wondering for a while about the fate of new laws in Colorado and Washington that legalize the sale of recreational marijuana. After all, pot is still illegal under federal law, so the state laws don't mean much if DEA agents are going to prosecute vendors under federal law. Today, they said they wouldn't:

The Justice Department said it will not seek to veto new state laws in Colorado and Washington that legalize the recreational use of marijuana, and it will not bring federal prosecutions against dispensaries or businesses that sell small amounts of marijuana to adults. A department official stressed, however, that marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and that U.S. prosecutors will continue to aggressively enforce the law against those who sell marijuana to minors and to criminal gangs that are involved in drug trafficking.

I'm not sure what "small amounts" means in practice, and the guidance DOJ issued to U.S. Attorneys leaves some questions unanswered:

U.S. Attorneys will individually be responsible for interpreting the guidelines and how they apply to a case they intend to prosecute. A Justice Department official said, for example, that a U.S Attorney could go after marijuana distributors who used cartoon characters in their marketing because that could be interpreted as attempting to distribute marijuana to minors.

But the official stressed that the guidance was not optional, and that prosecutors would no longer be allowed to use the sheer volume of sales or the for-profit status of an operation as triggers for prosecution, though these factors could still affect their prosecutorial decisions.

I guess this means that if vendors in Colorado and Washington keep a fairly low profile, they won't be hassled. If they don't, they might be. Overall, this is probably about as good as we could have expected.