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Federal officials are weighing their options for legal action against Washington and Colorado’s new marijuana laws. Such action could undermine the laws, which legalize the recreational use of the drug.

Officials in the White House and Justice Department have been holding meetings to discuss the government’s response to the laws, according to The New York Times. Marijuana use is illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The federal government could sue the states, on the grounds that efforts to regulate the drug are pre-empted by federal law, the article notes. If the Justice Department won that case, both initiatives could be struck down.

The question of how to respond to the laws is a thorny one for President Obama, because legalization of marijuana is popular among liberal Democrats who voted for him, according to the newspaper.

Several federal officials said the issue raises complex legal and policy considerations. These include the impact of international anti-drug treaties, enforcement priorities and strategies for litigation.

Federal prosecutors could bring cases against low-level marijuana users in Washington or Colorado. They would wait for a defendant to make a motion to dismiss the case because marijuana is now legal in their state, and then obtain a court ruling that federal law trumps the state measure.

Another option is for the Justice Department to file lawsuits against both states, to prevent them from setting up systems that would regulate and tax the drug. The government also could cut off federal grants to Colorado and Washington unless their legislatures restored laws forbidding marijuana use.


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