The Department of Justice said it would not prioritize enforcing federal marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington, two states that have legalized recreational pot use.
In a memo sent Thursday to federal prosecutors in all 50 states, which also applies to medical marijuana businesses, the Justice Department signaled a significant shift in its handling of the disparity between permissive state laws and stricter federal bans on cannabis.
Federal prosecutors, the memo says, should not make it a priority to target marijuana use so long as it complies with state and local regulations.
"The Department's guidance in this memorandum rests on its expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health, and other law enforcement interests," the memo reads.
It also listed eight federal priorities for prosecution:
• Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;
• Preventing revenue form the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
• Preventing the diversion of marijuana form states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
• Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for trafficking or other illegal drugs or illegal activity;
• Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
• Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
• Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
• Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper cheered the decision, relayed to him by Attorney General Arick Holder Thursday morning.
"Today's announcement shows the federal government is respecting the will of Colorado voters," he said. "We share with the federal government its priorities going forward."