In light of the marijuana legalization measures passed in Washington and Colorado, 18 members of Congress are asking the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration not to take enforcement action against any individual complying with state law, while two others introduced a bipartisan bill Friday to formally exempt states with marijuana laws from the federal counterpart.
In a letter to the two agencies Friday, U.S. House members from states with marijuana legalization laws, as well as civil rights champions including Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), implored federal officials to permit states to serve as the “laboratories of democracy” and implement a drug policy that may finally eliminate disproportionate racial impact and get to the root of public health and safety problems associated with the illicit marijuana trade:
The people of Colorado and Washington have decided that marijuana ought to be regulated like alcohol, with strong and efficient regulation of production, retail sales and distribution, coupled with strict laws against underage use and driving while intoxicated. The voters chose to eliminate the illegal marijuana market controlled by cartels and criminals and recognized the disproportionate impact that marijuana has on minorities. These states have chosen to move from a drug policy that spends millions of dollars turning ordinary Americans into criminals toward one that will tightly regulate the use of marijuana while raising tax revenue to support cash-strapped state and local governments. We believe this approach embraces the goals of existing federal marijuana law: to stop international trafficking, deter domestic organized criminal organizations, stop violence associated with the drug trade and protect children.
While we recognize that other states have chosen a different path, and further understand that the federal government has an important role to play in protecting against interstate shipments of marijuana leaving Colorado and Washington, we ask that your departments take no action against anyone who acts in compliance with the laws of Colorado, Washington and any other states that choose to regulate marijuana for medicinal or personal use. The voters of these states chose, by a substantial margin, to forge a new and effective policy with respect to marijuana. The tide of public opinion is changing both at the ballot box and in state legislatures across the country. We believe that the collective judgment of voters and state lawmakers must be respected.
In the letter, the representatives criticize the DOJ for prosecuting medical marijuana dispensaries in contradiction to statements in 2009 that the Department would not prioritize enforcement of those in compliance with state laws. The Department has since fluctuated on its official policy with respect to medical marijuana prosecutions, and said after the passage of the recreational marijuana laws only that its enforcement approach would “remain unchanged.” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has asked Attorney General Eric Holder for clarity on the federal response “as soon as possible.”
Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) (who also signed this letter) and Ron Paul (R-TX) sent a separate letter to President Obama last week, also urging the federal government to refrain from prosecution of individuals who are following their states’ marijuana law.
Meanwhile, two Colorado House members introduced a bill Friday that would exempt states with their own marijuana laws from the Controlled Substances Act’s marijuana provisions. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), who also signed onto the letter to federal officials, and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), who strongly opposed Colorado’s marijuana legalization law, jointly introduced the bill.