A government watchdog played the role of high school math teacher on Monday, knocking the Department of Justice for not showing its work while keeping watch over states that have legalized marijuana.
DOJ officials admitted to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that they “did not see a benefit in DOJ documenting how it would monitor the effect of state marijuana legalization,” despite a prior department guidance recommending they do so, and internal regulations calling for the creation of such a paper trail. The admission came in a GAO report published Monday.
In recent years, more than two dozen states and the District of Columbia have relaxed laws restricting the use of cannabis–for both medicinal and recreational purposes. In response, in 2013, the DOJ issued rules relaxing some of its anti-pot enforcement actions.
The department also promised to review data from these new legal landscapes to ensure that federal law enforcement officials were still pursuing related high-priority crimes–the distribution of marijuana to minors, its distribution across state lines, and organized crime activity.
But when pressed by the GAO, the Justice Department could not document how it has conducted this review process.
In some cases, officials pointed to having analyzed the department’s Legal Information Online Network System (LIONS) before “informing the department’s counterdrug policy.” But a DOJ Inspector General report from March 2014, however, found limitations with the service, and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys concluded that LIONS “would not provide reliable information” on marijuana related cases for the department.
“Given the growing number of states legalizing marijuana, it is important for DOJ to have a clear plan for how it will be monitoring the effects of state marijuana legalization relative to DOJ marijuana enforcement guidance,” GAO stated. It warned that the lack of a documented review process could harm “organizational knowledge.”
It also noted that the absence of a reliable monitoring system left the department in possible violation of the Federal Managers’ Financial Integrity Act of 1982–legislation that specifies how agencies should record, communicate, and make data readily available for internal reviews.
The watchdog recommended that DOJ layout a plan to identify what data it should use to analyze the impact of state-level marijuana legalization, and how that information will impact its policy. The department concurred with the recommendation.
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About the author:worked on the Hill as a Congressional staffer, and as a writer and reporter since 2008.