Colorado and Washington Legalize Marijuana: Will the DEA do anything?
For a while now, a number of states have decriminalized marijuana in the medical treatment context. For example, as most people know, in Arizona, if someone has a medical marijuana card, they can use a "medicinal amount" of marijuana and that person can purchase the marijuana from a licensed dispensary. Even more significantly, if someone has a medical marijuana card, that is a defense to an illegal drug metabolite DUI charge ARS 28-1381(A)(3), same as any other prescription drug. It is not, however, a defense to driving under the influence if the person's driving is impaired "at least to the slightest degree" ARS 28-1381(A)(1).
But what changed in last night's election is that two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational, that is not medical, use of marijuana. Essentially, now Washington and Colorado are the Amsterdam of the United States. But there is a significant hurdle that remains: even though the state may have decriminalized recreational marijuana use, it is still a federal crime to posses and use marijuana. Will the DEA enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington?
The Drug Enforcement Administration quickly tried to spoil their Rocky Mountain high, issuing a statement Wednesday morning saying the DEA's "enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged."
"In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance," the DEA statement said. "The Department of Justice is reviewing the ballot initiatives, and we have no additional comment at this time."
The bottom line here is that no one should assume that because the DEA has not gone after medical marijuana users in Arizona, California, and elsewhere that they will treat recreational users of marijuana the same. It could very well be that the DEA believes medical use of marijuana may be fine, but recreational use is not.
How will we find out? Although we live in a democracy and we would expect our government to simply tell us, "yes you can use medical marijuana but not recreational" or "no, you can't do either" or "yes you can do both", don't hold your breath. The reality is we will only find out when for certain once the DEA starts arresting people. Until that happens, we will not know know one way or the other.