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Drug abuse groups say pot stance of feds is wrong

Published September 4, 2013 2:40 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Seattle • Drug abuse prevention groups asked the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday how it will know whether its acceptance of recreational marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado affects public health.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the groups said the DOJ's position is a mistake and they want to know how it will measure the states' success in meeting enforcement priorities required as part of the federal acceptance.

For example, they asked how many additional underage pot users and marijuana-related car crashes will be required before the department sues to block the laws.

"What measurements will the department use to assess the damage done in Colorado, Washington and other states that legalize marijuana?" said the letter from Project Safe Approaches to Marijuana, Drug Free America Foundation, National Association of Drug Court Professionals and other groups.

The DOJ announced last week that it would not sue Washington or Colorado over plans to tax and regulate pot sales for adults as long as the states adhere to the federal priorities that include preventing drugged driving and keeping marijuana away from kids and off the black market.

The Justice Department noted in its memo that strong state regulatory systems could actually enhance federal law enforcement goals by keeping marijuana profits from cartels.

Washington's recreational marijuana law devotes some of its tax revenue to teen prevention and to public health education, and it includes restrictions on marijuana advertising.

Alison Holcomb, the author of Washington's marijuana initiative and drug policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, encouraged the groups to review the evaluation requirements built into Initiative 502.

Washington's law requires periodic evaluation of harm resulting from use as well as reviews of public health, public safety, economic and social justice issues, she said.

"The truth is that without this evaluation and comparison, these groups have no way of knowing whether regulated legalization is a mistake," Holcomb said. "What they do know — or should know if they're taking a fair look at the big picture — is that the status quo is doing far more harm than good."