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SALT LAKE CITY — Federal law enforcement officials are reviewing Utah's new medical marijuana law to decide how it affects the job they do in the state.
"It’s of great concern to us, the marijuana impact in Utah. It was then, it is now," U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said. "It’s still against federal law, that cannot be forgot."
Utah voters approved a ballot initiative in November legalizing doctor-approved cannabis treatment for certain health conditions. State lawmakers this month replaced the measure with a law they say puts tighter controls on the production, distribution and use of the drug.
In September, Huber said the fact that marijuana use, production, distribution and transportation violates federal law was lost in the debate over the initiative.
Huber said the Department of Justice allows individual U.S. attorneys to decide how to enforce marijuana laws in their districts.
"What was a hands-off approach previously under the Obama administration, whatever handcuffs or restraints that were placed on me are gone, and I have a lot of discretion to see best how to use our limited resources," he said.
"I’ve got to think about these things with my partners to see where we should use our resources and what is drug trafficking and exploitation and profiteering."
The Utah Department of Public Safety last week promised to do everything it can to ensure the rights of qualifying patients to possess medical marijuana are upheld.
Utah Highway Patrol Col. Michael Rapich said troopers are fully invested in ensuring all legal protections are honored for those who possess and use cannabis lawfully.
But Rapich also warned that the legalization of medical marijuana does not give carte blanche to those wishing to use the drug. It is still illegal to possess or transport it in large amounts, and only patients with qualifying conditions can possess it at all.
Huber said federal authorities prosecute marijuana cases in the state every month.
"They take a toll on who we want to be as Utahns," he said.
Huber cited statistics in September showing the ill effects of legalized marijuana from the federal Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area report that has studied the impact of recreational marijuana in Colorado since 2013.
Legalized marijuana, whether recreational or medicinal, in surrounding states is flowing in and through Utah as are cash and criminal organizations, he said.
"Promises made to voters in those states have not been kept from our perspective," Huber said. "We’ll see what Utah’s state of play is in the months and years to come."