The state Drug Czar says the U.S. Justice Department’s recent decision to not enforce its federal drug laws in the states of Washington and Colorado has made the drug fight in Iowa tougher. Both Washington and Colorado passed state laws making recreational marijuana use legal.

Steve Lukan is the director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP), and says Colorado raises the most concern because it is closer to Iowa. “There is more marijuana being trafficked into the state, as laws are relaxed there’s more and more available. And one of the big problems that lies with that is access by youth. That’s really a big concern of our office — is trying to keep youth away from all drugs,” Lukan says. “It’s very challenging because youth today are getting a message ‘it’s okay, it’s safe,’ and that’s far from the truth.”

Lukan says the statistics show how marijuana is impacting the lives of young people here. “Sixty-six-percent of our youth population who are in drug treatment programs cite marijuana as their drug of choice. This is a serious drug, it can have a serious impact on people’s lives,” Lukan says. “We would like the federal government to fully enforce the controlled substances act and kind of reinforce that this drug should not be on the streets, that it should not be easily accessible.”

He sent a letter to federal officials outlining his concerns and pointing out that 36-percent of the marijuana captured in drug busts here comes from Colorado. “So, when the Department of Justice says they’re not going to enforce federal law in one state — it does have an impact on all states,” Lukan explains. “I’m just trying to help I think get that point across that this does have an impact on all 50 states. Not just because one state voted to allow for recreational use, it doesn’t insulate all other states from the affects.”

He says the Justice Department’s decision sends a disappointing mixed message. “I just find it really kind of baffling. We’ve spent decades and decades and trillions of dollars battling cigarette smoke and squashing the use of cigarettes and tobacco — and then we turn around and endorse the use of drugs. It’s mind boggling in some ways,” Lukan says.

One of the key points the ODCP stresses is the importance of parents talking to their kids about the dangers of drugs. Lukan says that continues to hold true as kids see reports of the legalization of marijuana. “If we can get that message across that they want their kids to be drug free, we know that that can have a huge impact on young people’s decisions. And if we can keep the young people drug free until about age 21 — you are almost guaranteed that they will never try drugs later on in life,” Lukan says.

Lukan says he has not heard a reply from the Department of Justice on the letter he sent them regarding the marijuana enforcement decision. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, spoke out about the conflicts between the state and federal marijuana laws during a hearing held last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Grassley mentioned Lukan’s letter in his remarks.

See Lukan’s letter here: ODCP letter on Marijuana PDF

Seantor Grassley’s remarks: Chuck Grassley marijuana statement PDF