In a move that could set the stage for more states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, the Justice Department announced Thursday that it won’t sue to prevent Colorado and Washington from allowing residents to use small amounts of the drug at their leisure.
Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that advocates the legal regulation of marijuana, told the Associated Press that the policy change is "a clear signal that states are free to determine their own policies."
Colorado and Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2012. Alaska is set to vote on recreational marijuana next year, and a number of other states are expected to follow in 2016.
While the Justice Department will not shut down the two states' marijuana markets, it did outline eight priority areas for its enforcement of marijuana laws.
They include stopping the distribution of marijuana to minors, 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.
Federal enforcement will also focus on preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used to cover up the trafficking of illegal drugs and preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana.
The remaining priorities are to stop drugged driving, the growing of marijuana on public land and marijuana possession on federal property.
Calvina Fay, executive director of the anti-legalization group Drug Free America Foundation and Save Our Society From Drugs, said that the new enforcement priorities put young people at risk for drug dependency.
"The bottom line is that this administration has surrendered to legalizing marijuana, the most widely abused illicit drug in America, especially among our youth," she said.
Last December, President Barack Obama said it does not make sense for the federal government to go after drug users in a state that has legalized recreational use of small amounts of marijuana.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press