DENVER – U.S. Attorney John Walsh, Colorado’s top federal prosecutor during the state’s trailblazing experiment in legal marijuana, is stepping down.
Walsh, who served for six years, announced his departure Friday. He will return to private practice, where he worked for more than a decade before his appointment. He resigns Aug. 10 as President Barack Obama’s administration winds down.
In an interview Friday, Walsh said it was a high honor to be tapped to serve as leader of the attorney general’s advisory committee, advising federal prosecutors across the country on major policy and management issues.
It gave Walsh the chance to play a key role in Justice Department policy as Colorado grappled with legalized recreational marijuana.
Among the challenges, he said, was dealing with a surge in illegal drug traffickers growing weed among the state’s sanctioned warehouses for shipment elsewhere. The federal government allowed Colorado’s experiment on the condition that state officials act to keep marijuana from migrating to places where it is still outlawed and out of the hands of criminal cartels.
But rather than crack down on the flourishing legal industry that attracted them, Walsh went after the traffickers, most of whom he said never made an attempt to comply with state law. Because Colorado is trying to keep its industry tightly regulated, Walsh said he saw no reason to end the legal pot trade.
“It’s a work in progress, and the state has made some very important steps,” Walsh said Friday. “What is really heartening is we have a very strong working relationship with regulators who are focused on making sure public safety is protected, and this experiment Colorado voters have approved works in a way that doesn’t harm people.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Colorado is safer because of his prosecutions of organized crime, drug cartels and gang violence.
She lauded Walsh’s work on a team of state and federal officials who helped reach major settlements with the big banks after the financial crisis, including a $7 billion settlement with Citigroup.