The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman wants the Justice Department to break its near-silence about the new laws legalizing marijuana in Washington state and Colorado.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will hold a hearing next month to get more information on how the administration plans to handle the new pot laws, which have already partially gone into effect in Washington and Colorado. Voters approved the ballot measures in November, roiling federal law enforcement and setting off celebrations by marijuana legalization advocates. The measures legalize the personal use of up to one ounce of marijuana and the creation of an industry to handle its sale and distribution.
The Justice Department has not offered guidance to state law enforcers, who have asked how they can avoid showdowns between state and federal authorities. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the Justice Department maintains authority to arrest those found in possession or production. The issue came to a head this year, as U.S. Attorneys in California cracked down on medical marijuana dispensaries. Critics said the crackdowns betrayed a previous promise of benevolence from the administration.
Leahy also on Thursday released a letter to R. Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, asking for more information on how the administration plans to handle the new laws.
“What assurance can and will the administration give to state officials involved in the licensing of marijuana retailers that they will not face federal criminal penalties for carrying out duties assigned to them under state law?” Leahy wrote.
Congress could resolve the difference between federal and state law with regard to marijuana legalization by amending the Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, “at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law,” he wrote.
Last week, Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan released a brief statement on the eve of the marijuana law’s enactment, reiterating the federal government’s stance on the drug. Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh released a nearly identical statement, as well.