Marijuana not a high priority, president says of enforcement

Feds' stance still needs clarity, Hickenlooper says

DENVER — Despite President Barack Obama’s statement Friday to ABC News’ Barbara Walters that recreational marijuana use is not a high priority for the federal government, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper still isn’t sure how federal prosecutors will react to the state’s recent legalization of the herb.

The Democratic governor said while the president’s statements offer some direction as to what the feds might do in dealing with measures in Colorado and Washington that made recreational marijuana legal, he still hasn’t heard from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Hickenlooper had asked Holder to make clear just how the U.S. Department of Justice would deal with prosecuting marijuana laws, which remain illegal under federal law, but has yet to hear back from federal officials on the issue.

Friday’s statement from the president didn’t help.

“I’m a little unclear on whether the Justice Department and the president are in concert ... so I don’t think we’re quite there yet,” the governor told the Capitol press corps at an annual Colorado Press Association pre-legislative forum.

“But I think it’s fair to say that if the Justice Department and the president come together and release a statement along those lines, it certainly would give us more clarity,” Hickenlooper said. “More clarity from Washington would help us in the implementation of what the voters put in the Constitution.”

A few weeks after Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing adult usage of small amounts of marijuana in November’s elections, the governor formed a task force to help draft regulations overseeing it.

The amendment calls on the Legislature to approve a bill outlining how marijuana can be sold and regulated like alcohol, including the establishment of marijuana shops that could sell it.

Like similar state laws regulating centers to sell medical marijuana, which voters approved in 2000, the amendment allows cities and counties to ban such shops, either by direct ordinances or a local ballot measure.

Some are already considering placing such measures on their ballots next year.

Meanwhile, proponents of the measure seized on the president’s remarks, saying the state and federal governments should focus now on working together.

“Colorado voters made it quite clear that they prefer marijuana be sold in a regulated market,” said Mason Tvert, who headed the group that got the measure passed. “Our state and federal government must now determine how to work together to advance such a state-based system without undermining legitimate federal interests. We are glad to hear President Obama is ready for that conversation and we look forward to having it.”


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