Feds have yet to formulate a response to passage of marijuana legalization proposition in California

Mike Riggs Contributor
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California is five hours from Washington by plane, and a solid two days if one takes the scenic route. So perhaps distance explains why neither the Department of Justice nor the Senate Judiciary Committee are all that concerned by the impending passage of a California referendum item that would legalize marijuana in the Golden State.

If, on the other hand, the feds are worried about Proposition 19, which would legalize and tax the sale and possession of cannabis, they aren’t sweating it in public.

“The federal government is committed to enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act and the Department of Justice will continue to focus its enforcement resources on significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, in all states,” said DOJ spokesperson Laura Sweeney. “It is premature to speculate what steps we would take in the event that California passes its ballot measure.”

That’s been the standard line from Justice for a while, even though the vote on Prop. 19 is now just weeks away. According to Senate staffers, there’s been no communication between the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department about what to do if Prop. 19 — which is polling favorably according to the Public Policy Institute of California and the California Field Poll – -actually passes.

“There has not been contact between the DOJ and the Republicans on the committee concerning this issue of which I am aware,” one Judiciary Committee staffer told The Daily Caller. However, he did say “[t]his Justice Department has publicly announced that [it] does not intend to prosecute small quantity marijuana trafficking related to state medical use laws. It is unclear what DOJ will do if the proposition passes.”

A spokesperson for Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy confirmed that the senator had not met with DOJ reps to discuss Prop. 19.

In the absence of an official federal line, drug policy experts can only speculate about a federal response.

“My best guess is that [DOJ] won’t sue, but that they’ll issue a memo similar to the one from last October saying they’ll take a hands-off approach for people complying with state law, but still actively pursue anyone transporting marijuana out of California, or anyone involved in manufacture/distribution of marijuana outside of California,” said Dan Riffle, a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project.

Riffle also said that the DOJ could sue to block the law — “and seek an injunction in the interim” — or “send in hundreds of DEA agents to pursue anyone violating federal law, or just a few to bust high-profile operations.” He also said that, “It’s also possible they’ll withhold funding to the state in an attempt to force California to come into the fold (similar to the way the feds withheld highway funding from states until they passed 21+ alcohol laws).”

The problem with guessing, he added, “is you can’t say how this will change things for the DOJ until you know what the DOJ is going to do about Prop 19. When they say how they’re going to proceed, I can tell you how things will change. Until then, it’s anyone’s guess.”

The Daily Caller reported in September that the Justice Department under Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder had been conducting medical marijuana raids with less fanfare.