Hearing To Address Differences Between Federal and State Cannabis Laws
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced on Monday that he will address discrepancies between federal and state marijuana laws in an upcoming hearing on September 10. Leahy has invited Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to testify.
“It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal,” Sen. Leahy said. “I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government.”
Twenty states now allow medical marijuana, and Colorado and Washington recently became the first two states to approve the legal regulation of marijuana for non-medicinal purposes.
Last December, in a letter to U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, Senator Leahy asked how the federal government intends to deal with states like Colorado and Washington. In the letter, Senator Leahy also suggested that federal legislation could be introduced to legalize up to an ounce of marijuana, at least in states that have legalized it. He also sought assurances that state employees would not be prosecuted for implementing state laws.
There are several bipartisan bills in the U.S. House that would reform federal marijuana laws, but so far none in the Senate.
“Two states have made marijuana legal for adult use and are establishing regulated systems of production and distribution,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “Twenty states plus our nation’s capital have made it legal for medical use. By failing to recognize the decisions of voters and legislators in those states, current federal law is undermining their ability to implement and enforce those laws.“Marijuana prohibition’s days are numbered, and everyone in Washington knows that,” Riffle said. “It’s time for Congress to stop ignoring the issue and develop a policy that allows states to adopt the most efficient and effective marijuana laws possible. We need to put the ‘reefer madness’ policies of the 1930s behind us and adopt an evidence-based approach for the 21st century.”
“This is an important development for all sorts of reasons – not least because the Senate has been so remarkably passive on marijuana issues even as 20 states have legalized medical marijuana and two have legalized it more broadly,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “I am delighted that Senator Leahy now seems ready to provide much needed leadership on this issue.
“The ballot initiatives in Washington and Colorado made history not so much because they legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana but because they mandated that state governments regulate and tax what had previously been illicit markets,” Nadelmann said. “Ending marijuana prohibition not just in the states but also nationally is going to require the sort of leadership that Senator Leahy is now providing.
“Now is the time for his colleagues to stand up as well in defense of responsible state regulation of marijuana,” Nadelmann said.