Federal marijuana memo could affect other countries, expert says

A memo written by the Obama administration regarding commercial marijuana operations has left many in California wondering what it means for the state and nation.

But the reverberations of the new memo from the U.S. Department of Justice could also be felt by those in foreign countries, observers say. 

The administration said Thursday it would not interfere with new laws in Colorado and Washington state permitting pot's recreational use.

A memo written by Deputy Atty. Gen. James M. Cole is a sharp turn from the last memo he wrote on the issue in 2011, in which he emphasized that commercial marijuana operations were not protected by their states’ laws.

The document released Thursday said prosecutors “should not consider the size or commercial nature of a marijuana operation alone” as a factor for enforcement.

One of the main takeaways that Beau Kilmer, co-director of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center, gleaned from the memo is "it sends a signal to other states and other countries that the U.S. Department of Justice will tolerate commercial marijuana production under certain circumstances."

That could have a real effect on other countries wrestling with legalization, said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. 

In a telephone interview with Nadelmann while he was in Jamaica, he said the country is moving forward with marijuana legalization, but some officials fear a phone call from the U.S. ambassador.

Before Thursday, Nadelmann told them there is a lot less to fear.

And then with Thursday's announcement, "it reinforces what I was saying in a huge way," Nadelmann said. "I was expecting a yellow light, but this light looks a lot more greenish than I had expected."

"The White House is essentially saying proceed with caution," he said.

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