WASHINGTON (AP/CBS4) - The federal government said Thursday that it won't sue to stop the states of Colorado and Washington from allowing recreational marijuana use.
"Huge news, obviously, I think we were most surprised that it was very clear language, very to the point," said Denver Relief spokesman Kayvan Khalatbari.
In a sweeping policy announcement, the Justice Department outlined eight top priority areas for its enforcement of marijuana laws.
They range from preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors to preventing sales revenue from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels and preventing the diversion of marijuana outside of states where it is legal under state law.
"This is an historic occasion in which our federal government perhaps for the first time ever said states can start adopting their own marijuana policies that they believe are the most effective," said Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert.
Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a statement that read, in part, "We share with the federal government its priorities going forward."
Other top-priority enforcement areas include preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover for trafficking other illegal drugs and preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana. The top areas also include preventing drugged driving, preventing growing marijuana on public land and preventing marijuana possession on federal property.
The response by the federal government drew a negative response from anti-marijuana groups.
"It still remains illegal under federal law. Not being an attorney I don't understand how they can pursue their policy when it's still illegal under federal law," said Colorado Tobacco Education Alliance spokesman Bob Doyle.
The announcement follows the first-in-the-nation legalization of recreational marijuana use by the states of Colorado and Washington.
Last December, President Barack Obama said it does not make sense for the federal government to go after recreational drug users in a state that has legalized recreational use of small amounts of marijuana.
"Shop owners in Colorado and the medical marijuana patients and even just marijuana consumers can really sleep a little easier tonight," said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, one the authors of Colorado's Amendment 64 that legalized the drug in the state. "They are no longer going to be a target of the federal government and are going to be protected under Colorado law as well."
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