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A Justice Department official says the federal government will not change its position on the legalization of marijuana, even if voters in Colorado, Washington state or Oregon approve measures to legalize recreational use of the drug.

On November 6, voters in the three states will decide whether to legalize and tax marijuana sales. Passage of any of the state measures could lead to a confrontation with the federal government, which views marijuana as an illegal narcotic, Reuters reports.

“We’re going to take a look at whether or not there are dangers to the community from the sale of marijuana and we’re going to go after those dangers,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said during an interview with the CBS News show “60 Minutes.” His comments were not aired on the show, but were posted on the website of the local CBS affiliate in Denver.

The article notes that until now, the Obama administration has been relatively silent about the state measures, leading to questions about whether the federal government would interfere with states’ taxation and regulation of marijuana.

Attorney General Eric Holder opposed a 2010 California proposal that would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. He said the federal government would vigorously enforce drug laws against people who used marijuana recreationally, even if permitted by state law. The proposal was rejected by voters, and some credit Holder’s statement with being partly responsible for the outcome.

In September, nine former administrators of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wrote a letter to Holder, urging him to oppose the three state measures. The letter stated that not opposing the measures would indicate acceptance. The former DEA officials said if the measures in Colorado, Washington and Oregon are passed, they will pose a direct conflict with federal law.


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