LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 25:  Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary, which opened in 2006, on July 25, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles City Council has unanimously voted to ban storefront medical marijuana dispensaries and to order them to close or face legal action. The council also voted to instruct staff to draw up a separate ordinance for consideration in about three months that might allow dispensaries that existed before a 2007 moratorium on new dispensaries to continue to operate. It is estimated that Los Angeles has about one thousand such facilities. The ban does not prevent patients or cooperatives of two or three people to grow their own in small amounts. Californians voted to legalize medical cannabis use in 1996, clashing with federal drug laws. The state Supreme Court is expected to consider ruling on whether cities can regulate and ban dispensaries.    (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Attorney General Holder Talks Marijuana
00:50 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

The outgoing U.S. attorney general said he is “cautiously optimistic” when it comes to Washington and Colorado’s experiment with marijuana legalization.

Eric Holder, who announced last month his plans to retire, is one of President Barack Obama’s longest-serving Cabinet members and has faced the delicate task of defining federal policy after a wave of marijuana legalization at the state level across the country.

“We don’t want to put into the federal system, low level people who are simply there for possessory offenses,” Holder said Monday in an interview with CNN’s Evan Perez

Holder last year outlined eight enforcement areas the Justice Department would focus on in a move aimed at calming nerves in Washington and Colorado, the only two states where recreational marijuana is legal.

The eight “priority areas” have focused the Justice Department’s efforts on preventing marijuana distribution to minors, inter-state trafficking and drug violence.

But Holder made clear Monday that his agency could change its non-interventionist stance if the states’ regulatory frameworks aren’t up to snuff.

“What I’ve told the governors of those states is that if we’re not satisfied with their regulatory scheme that we reserve the right to come in and to sue them. So we’ll see,” Holder said.

The sale and possession of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The Justice Department’s policy hasn’t meant total immunity for marijuana growers and dispensaries in states with both medical and recreation marijuana, where dispensaries and growhouses have since been raided and owners prosecuted.