How Will the Federal Decision Not to Prosecute Recreational Marijuana Use Affect Kentucky?

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By: Ted Walter, Staff Member

Recreational marijuana initiatives passed in elections last fall in the states of Washington and Colorado.[i] These state laws are contradictory to the federal laws that place marijuana in the controlled substances act.[ii] Until recently it was unknown how the federal justice administration would respond to those laws. However, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that new guidelines will be applied to marijuana prosecution at the federal level. Those guidelines aim to prevent:
“the distribution of marijuana to minors; revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels; the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states; state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity; violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana; drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use; growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.”[iii]
These events trigger the bigger question of what effect the federal decision to not prosecute recreational marijuana use in Washington and Colorado will have on other state’s laws. Many states have already seen a movement to follow in the footsteps of Washington and Colorado: Maine, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, California, and Oregon.[iv] Undoubtedly, other states will follow suit because of the expected tax revenue from marijuana sales. One author notes that it is likely that marijuana will be “taxed at each stage of its growth, processing, and sale.”[v]

This is of particular interest for the state of Kentucky because of recently enacted legislation that legalizes hemp production. James Comer, the Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture, is of the belief that the recent change in federal prosecution of marijuana might also translate to hemp.[vi] Comer believes this will allow Kentucky to move ahead with industrial hemp farming.[vii] So strong is this belief, Comer is already “courting hemp processing companies in hopes that they will do business in the state.”[viii] Further, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul promised his support at the federal level.[ix] If Comer’s beliefs are true, and other states follow the paths of Washington and Colorado, it is possible that very soon in the state of Kentucky, both marijuana and hemp production will provide much needed tax revenue for the state.
[i] Ryan J. Reilly and Ryan Grim, Eric Holder Says DOJ Will Let Washington, Colorado Marijuana Laws Go Into Effect, The Huffington Post, Aug. 29 2013,
[ii] Id.
[iii] Id.
[iv] Id.
[v] Colleen Curry, Marijuana Ruling Could Signal End of Prohibition on Pot, Yahoo! News, Aug. 31, 2013,
[vi] David Ferguson, Kentucky agriculture commissioner: State to grow hemp and we’ll see what Justice Department does, The Raw Story, Sept. 4, 2013,
[vii] Id.
[viii] Id.
[ix] Id.