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Patrick Leahy Demands to Know How Feds Will React to Legal Pot in States

Reporters and policy makers are scrambling to figure out how the federal government will respond to drug legalization in some states.
 
 
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Marijuana is now legal in Washington and Colorado, but the battle over legalization may have just begun. Today, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) released a letter he sent to the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Gil Kerlikowske asking how the administration might respond to marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington State.   He also made the important  announcement that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the topic when Congress resumes early next year.  

In the letter (below), Leahy specifically requests information about the administration's recommendations to the Department of Justice regarding marijuana in the states. Moreover, he asks the important question: "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?"

Reporters and policy makers alike are scramblng to figure out how the federal government will respond to the state laws' conflict with the Controlled Substances Act, a federal law categorizing pot as a 'Schedule I" drug right next to heroin. 

Full text of the letter:

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December 5, 2012

The Honorable R. Gil Kerlikowske

Director

Office of National Drug Control Policy

Executive Office of the President

Washington, DC 20503

Dear Director Kerlikowske:

Last month, voters in Colorado and Washington chose to legalize personal use of up to one ounce of marijuana and to enact licensing schemes for cultivation and distribution of the drug. As the states move to implement these new laws, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance according to the Federal Government. Production, distribution, and possession of the drug are Federal criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has a significant interest in the effect of these developments on Federal drug control policy. How does the Office of National Drug Control Policy intend to prioritize Federal resources, and what recommendations are you making to the Department of Justice and other agencies in light of the choice by citizens of Colorado and Washington to legalize personal use of small amounts of marijuana? 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?

Legislative options exist to resolve the differences between Federal and state law in this area and end the uncertainty that residents of Colorado and Washington now face. One option would be to amend the Federal Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law. In order to give these options full consideration, the Committee needs to understand how the administration intends to respond to the decision of the voters in Colorado and Washington. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.

Sincerely,                   

PATRICK LEAHY                                                   

Chairman

U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary

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Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristenGwynne