SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's top federal law enforcement officer said one "important detail" is being overlooked in the heated debate over medical marijuana in the state.
"Marijuana is against the law, federal law," U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said Thursday. "That very important aspect cannot be lost in this discussion."
The use, production, distribution and transportation of marijuana violates federal law, he said.
"That has not changed, and although there are talks about change, it's the current state of the law, and it's my obligation to enforce federal law," Huber told reporters during a roundtable discussion in his office.
"I'm not a policymaker, don't get into the politics behind these things," he said. "My main concern is law enforcement."
Utah voters will decide in November whether to allow doctor-approved marijuana treatment for certain medical conditions. Opponents of the proposal say the ballot initiative is a guise for legalized recreational marijuana.
Huber said it is "to be determined" how his office would enforce federal law in Utah if the initiative passes.
"It's an interesting question. It's one I ponder as I observe the political process on this," he said. "I can't really answer that. … When a case is presented to me, I'll review it."
During the roundtable, Huber cited statistics showing the ill effects of legalized marijuana use from a newly released federal Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area report that has studied the impact of recreational marijuana in Colorado since 2013. Huber and other state and local law enforcers are part of the area's executive board, along with officials from Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.
"I believe that in the future, if this becomes part of Utah culture, based on the studies of Colorado and their experience, my job and my partners' job will become even more difficult in addressing the criminal concerns that are attendant to any form of medical marijuana or marijuana legalization," he said.
As of June 2017, there were 491 retail marijuana stores in Colorado, compared to 392 Starbuck's stores and 208 McDonald's restaurants, according to the report.
"That's striking to me," Huber said.
Huber said felony arrests in "Marijuana USA" are up when they would be expected to be down. The report also found violent crime increased 18.6 percent and property crimes 8.3 percent in Colorado since 2013.
"I can't really answer the question of 'What are you going to do?'" he said. "But we enforce these laws now and I suspect we will enforce federal law in the future."
Other findings in the report include:
• In 2017, one 1 of 5 traffic deaths were marijuana related compared to one out of 10 in 2009.48 comments on this story
• Colorado drug task forces conducted 144 investigations of black market marijuana, resulting in 239 felony arrests and 7.3 tons of marijuana seized.
• Colorado past month marijuana use, ages 12 and older, has increased 45 percent comparing yearly averages before and after legalization and is higher than the national average in every age category.
• The yearly rate of marijuana-related hospitalizations increased 148 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana.
• The average THC potency in tested Colorado marijuana sold in 2017 was 19.6 percent for flower and 68.6 percent for marijuana concentrate products.