Federal government to hold hearing on marijuana


Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
The great question of how the federal government will respond to the historic marijuana laws passed last November in Colorado and Washington is about to be answered. Maybe.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has called for a hearing at 8 a.m. MDT on Sept. 10 to address the conflict between U.S. and state laws. Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole — author of the second clarifying marijuana memo after President Obama took office — are "invited" to give testimony, according to a statement from the Vermont senator's office.

“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,” Leahy says in the release. “I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government.”

News of the hearing drew immediate response from cannabis supporters.

"Marijuana prohibition's days are numbered, and everyone in Washington knows that," says Dan Riffle, with the Marijuana Policy Project, in a press release. "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."

Stephen Downing, a retired employee of the Los Angeles Police Department and current board member with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, says: "Right now, local law enforcement officers are doing everything they can to enforce these democratically enacted laws, but inconsistencies between stated policy and actions on behalf of the Justice Department have made that impossible.”

Tom Angell, the head of Marijuana Majority, told POLITICO that news of the meeting is good, but not that good.

“While President Obama generated headlines in December by saying his administration has ‘bigger fish to fry’ than prosecuting individual users, it’s never been a federal priority to bust people just for using a little marijuana,” he wrote to the news organization in an e-mail. “The real issue is whether the president wants states to continue implementing voter-approved regulations to control and tax marijuana sales, or if he wants to stand in the way and force these individual users to buy marijuana on the black market from violent drug cartels and gangs.

"During the 2008 campaign Barack Obama pledged to respect state marijuana laws, and we need lawmakers like Chairman Leahy to give him the encouragement he still sadly needs to fully follow through on that promise.”

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