SALEM — The top federal prosecutor in Oregon said Thursday that new U.S. Justice Department guidance on marijuana won't require any changes in the state.
U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said her staff reviewed marijuana prosecutions over the past two years and said all of the cases would have gone forward under the new federal rules.
The Justice Department on Thursday outlined eight priority areas for its enforcement of marijuana laws. The measures include preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, and preventing sales revenue from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels.
Federal authorities said they won't interfere with the state laws seeking to regulate legal marijuana as long as the drug is kept away from kids, the black market and federal property.
Oregon allows marijuana use with a doctor's recommendation, and lawmakers voted this year to permit stores where medical marijuana cardholders can buy the drug. Some advocates are also pushing for full legalization, and the issue is likely to come up in the Legislature next year.
Marshall said federal prosecutors won't interfere with marijuana programs authorized by the state as long as the regulations conform to the federal priorities and the state provides staff and money to enforce the laws.
"If the states do not enact strict regulatory schemes, or if they enact them and don't enforce them, federal prosecutors are going to act aggressively to bring prosecutions and may just challenge the regulatory schemes themselves," Marshall said.
Anthony Johnson of New Approach Oregon, a group seeking marijuana legalization, said the Justice Department's guidance should ease concerns about how the federal government would react.
"It definitely adds momentum to the cause and it should help the Legislature take a leadership role on the issue as well," Johnson said.
State Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said legislative leaders were already in the process of the forming a work group to study marijuana legalization even before the Justice Department announced its decision. The work group aims to craft a plan to legalize and regulate marijuana sales to adults, which lawmakers would consider referring to the 2014 ballot when they meet in February.