Marijuana is illegal under federal law. Yet Attorney General Eric Holder has decided not to interfere in any way with two states where recreational use of the drug has become permissible.
Colorado and Washington decriminalized marijuana last fall. Many states allow its use for medicinal purposes, but the two western states in essence allow anyone who wants to get high to buy the drug.
Proponents of legalizing marijuana for recreational use were delighted by Holder's decision. "The message to the people of the other 48 states ... is clear: Seize the day," exulted Neill Franklin, of one pro-legalization group.
Indeed, the message is clear: If federal officials do not agree with a federal law, they will not interfere when states attempt, in effect, to nullify it within their own borders.
In announcing the decision, the Justice Department attempted to defend it by saying it was "based on assurances that those states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system" on marijuana.
Again, under federal law the only appropriately strict regulatory system is to ban recreational use of marijuana.
What federal law will Holder's Justice Department decide next to allow states to nullify? Will North Dakota farmers be allowed to grow industrial hemp, which remains illegal while residents in Colorado and Washington are allowed to grow and use marijuana?
This is dangerous ground. The Justice Department is supposed to uphold the law, not pick and choose when and where it will do so.