UPDATE: 7:18 a.m. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration was “still considering” the federal response to voter-approved marijuana legalization laws in Washington and Colorado. Given the chance by Senate Judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy to make an announcement, Holder said a response would be coming soon.
Leahy, citing cuts to the Justice Department under sequestration, added: “I would suggest there are more serious things than minor possession of marijuana. That’s a personal view.”
ORIGINAL POST: Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to testify this morning before the Senate Judiciary committee (follow the link for a live webcast). Will today be the day he tips his closely-held hand regarding the Justice Department’s response to marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado?
He said recently that a memo was almost done, four months after the election.
And I’m suspicious about the timing of Tuesday’s twin condemnations of legalization by International Narcotics Control Board and by a group of ex-Drug Enforcement Administration chiefs, who demanded Holder take action. The ex-DEA administrators did so twice before the November election. Instead, 1.7 million Washington voters in 20 of the state’s 39 counties voted for a new approach to marijuana.
If the Justice Department produces a memo today or soon, here’s my prediction: it will condemn legalization and affirm the federal authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act. It will give marijuana users a bit of assurance that they won’t be locked up in a federal cell, with language similar to Justice’s 2009 “Ogden memo” giving medical marijuana users a pass if they operate within “clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws.”
But it won’t give state regulators a free pass to set up a marijuana market, no matter how tightly controlled the seed-to-sale rules are. Call me a pessimist, but I think the drug warriors in Washington D.C. will win this round because they’re living in a different era. It’s farther from Seattle to Washington D.C. as it is from Washington D.C. to Quito, Ecuador. We live on another planet out here on the Left Coast.
Having covered this issue for several years, I think the marijuana question is headed to federal court. If Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson are serious about upholding the will of the voters, they’ll put up a vigorous defense, in court and in the court of public opinion.
More importantly, it would then be time for our Congressional delegation to join with Colorado and demand a simple fix (one that has already been introduced by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado): strip the federal preemption of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. States go their own way on too many issues to count, and they’re the ones bearing the cost of marijuana prohibition.
I hope I’m wrong.
What do you think the Justice Department memo will say?