DOJ’s Pot Announcement: ‘It Doesn’t Mean a Thing’

While many marijuana activists were giddy with excitement after the Department of Justice’s announcement this morning that the feds would not challenge the legalization laws of Washington and Colorado, others took a distinctly more skeptical view.

“It doesn’t mean a thing,” insists Douglas Hiatt, a lawyer who has long advocated on behalf of medical marijuana patients.

Hiatt opposed last year’s legalization Initiative 502 because he thought it would be bad for patients (due in part to a tough DUI provision), and he has continued to voice a negative view. He raises a valid point, however, when he notes that the DOJ announcement does not change an essential fact about pot: “It’s still illegal.”

Says Hiatt of the feds: “They didn’t say that we need to change the federal law. They didn’t say we need to change the schedule. (Marijuana is classified as a dangerous Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act). They didn’t say we’re going to deal with any of the myriad problems [in the marijuana business]--like banking.” Banks, fearing prosecution, are reluctant to give out loans, or even accounts, to marijuana businesses.

Rather, in Hiatt’s view, the announcement is a “gutless” move that allows the administration to avoid a potentially unpopular crackdown while at the same time preserving its right to reverse itself at any time.

Others around the country are making similar points. Robert Frichtel, an entrepreneur in Colorado involved in the medical marijuana market, is more upbeat about the announcement, which he says allows for “some breathing room.” But, noting the unchanged federal law, he points out that there’s nothing to say that a new administration couldn’t come in and decide that the pot markets in Washington and Colorado cannot stand.

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