Adults in Washington state will be able to smoke marijuana legally when it is officially decriminalized Thursday, even though the Justice Department has offered no guidance on the conflict with U.S. drug laws.
Prosecutors throughout the state have begun dismissing hundreds of misdemeanor marijuana cases, and state and local police are being retrained to arrest drivers who are high and to allow adults to light up in their homes.
Marijuana, however, is still illegal under federal law. State officials say the Justice Department is creating confusion by remaining silent about what steps it may take in Washington and Colorado, which passed initiatives in November legalizing the manufacturing, distribution and possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, met with Deputy Attorney General James Cole at the Justice Department, but came away with no answers.
"They said they were reviewing it," Gregoire's spokesman, Cory Curtis, said Friday. "They didn't give us a timeline when they would provide clarity."
After his state approved the initiative, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, called Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and wrote him a letter asking for federal guidance.
"We need to know whether the federal government will take legal action to block the implementation of Amendment 64, or whether it will seek to prosecute grow and retail operations," Hickenlooper wrote.
He also asked Holder whether the department will prosecute Colorado state employees who regulate and oversee the growing and distribution of marijuana.
"We find no clear guidance on these issues in memoranda or statements previously issued by the DOJ," Hickenlooper wrote.
Like their counterparts in Washington, Colorado prosecutors have begun throwing out hundreds of misdemeanor marijuana cases.
Holder has not responded to Hickenlooper's Nov. 13 letter. Justice spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said the letter is "still under review."