On Aug. 29, 2013, then DOJ Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memorandum to all U.S. attorneys in response to legislation in states that had legalized the recreational use of marijuana — at the time Colorado and Washington. Other states had legalized marijuana for medicinal use, but these two states were the first to take this further step. These states' legalization of the production, sale and use of recreational marijuana had created a conflict between the states' laws and the federal law that still deemed the substance illegal. The Cole memo provided some certainty to marijuana-related businesses by directing federal law enforcement to pursue prosecutions only if one or more of a number of factors were present: sales to minors; violence; interstate sales; sales by gangs; or sales as a cover for other illegal activity. Even if conduct violated state law, it could not be prosecuted federally unless one of these aggravating factors were present. Otherwise, federal authorities were instructed to leave enforcement to state law enforcement.
© 2018 Venable LLP. Using, distributing, possessing, and/or selling marijuana is illegal under existing federal law. Compliance with state law does not guarantee or constitute compliance with federal law. This informational overview is not intended to provide any legal advice or any guidance or assistance in violating federal law.