When asked on CNN about the experiment with legalization taking place in those two states Holder responded, “I would say I’m cautiously optimistic.” Holder did reiterate that if the Department of Justice isn’t satisfied that the industry is being strictly regulated, DoJ will move to sue the states and shut things down.
While these positive words are good news for the reform movement, they come as Holder is preparing to step down, so they also serve as a reminder of the precarious legal situation the marijuana industry in these states continues to exist under. As long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the local marijuana industries exist only at the whim of the administration, which has given only rough guidelines of what they want to see.
If President Obama’s next Attorney General decides he is unhappy with how the regulations are being implemented in the states or in 2016 we elect a President that is strongly opposed to legalization, this could change very quickly. The executive branch could sue the state and/or just arrest some of the business owners until the rest are scared into shutting down.
Marijuana regulators in Colorado and Washington State don’t just need to focus on what is the best public policy but also trying to preempt any political backlash from the federal government. For this reason it is understandable if they sometimes seem overly cautious.