Legislators Line Up To Support Marijuana
Conyers, other Congresspersons asking
for DEA restraint in pro-marijuana states
A group of 18 Congresspersons have authored a letter to the Drug
Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) asking for
restraint in states with relaxed marijuana laws. In related actions, Reps.
Barney Frank, D- Mass. and Ron Paul, R-Texas, last week together sent a letter
expressing the same concerns to President Barack Obama and two Colorado House Representatives have introduced legislation protecting their state from federal interference in the implementation of their new law allowing recreational use of marijuana.
Longtime Michigan Representative John Conyers Jr., D- Detroit,
inked the most recent signature on a fresh document delivered to the two
government agencies on Friday, November 16th. The letter encouraged an exemption for citizens who are legally compliant with state regulations from any federal charges, encouraging a resolution to the issues of racial inequity in arrests and delivering a blow to the illegal drug trade. 18 states have laws allowing medical use of marijuana, and two states are nearing enactment of legalized recreational use.
From the letter:
"As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once observed, states are the laboratories of democracy. The people of Colorado and Washington
have decided that marijuana ought to be regulated much 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 prohibition 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
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 or Washington, we ask that your Departments take no enforcement action against anyone who acts in compliance with the laws of Colorado, Washington and any other states that choose to regulate access to 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."
Other Reps. signing on to this letter include Bobby Scott, Dennis Kucinich, Jared Polis, Sam Farr, Barney Frank and Steve Cohen.
Colorado Democratic Representative Diane DeGette also signed
that letter, and is the author of bi-partisan legislation aimed at protecting
states from federal penalty for implementing a pro-marijuana platform. In a public statement, DeGette wrote, "I don't want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking other punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens."
When introducing the legislation, titled "Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act", DeGette secured the support of fellow Coloradan and hardened anti-marijuana Republican Representative Mike Hoffman. In an interview with the Denver Post, Coffman said, "I strongly oppose the legalization of marijuana, but I also have an obligation to respect the will of the voters given the passage of this initiative, and so I feel obligated to support this legislation."
Two veteran fighters for marijuana law reform, Reps. Frank and Paul, wrote in their Nov. 14th letter to President Obama that they encourage a policy that will not allow "the federal government overriding the choices made by the voters of these states."
From the letter:
"We have sponsored legislation at the federal level to remove criminal penalties for the use of marijuana because of our belief in individual freedom. We recognize that this has not yet become national policy,
but we believe there are many strong reasons for your administration to allow the states of Colorado and Washington to set the policies they believe appropriate in this regard, without the federal government overriding the choices made by the voters of these states.
Respect for the rights of states to set policies on those matters that primarily affect their own residents argues for federal noninterference in this case, as does respect for the wishes of the voters - again, on matters that primarily affect those in the relevant electorate. Additionally, we believe that scarce federal resources – law nforcement, prosecutorial, judicial, and penal – should not be expended in opposition to the wishes of the voters of Colorado and Washington, given the responsibility of all federal officials to find ways to withhold unwise or unnecessary expenditures.
We believe that respecting the wishes of the electorates of Colorado and Washington and allowing responsible state authorities to carry out
those wishes will provide valuable information in an important national debate. Our request does not mean any permanent waiver of the ability of the federal government to enforce national laws should there be negative consequences of these state decisions – which we do not believe are at all likely – and thus we have as a result of these two states’ decisions a chance to observe in two states the effect of the policy that we continue to believe would be wise for the country as a whole. Those who disagree with us should welcome the opportunity to put their theories to a test.
Respect for the principles of democracy; respect for the states to make decisions on matters that primarily affect the residents of those
states; the chance to conserve scarce federal financial resources – these we believe are many strong reasons for you to defer to the state decisions, and we believe that even those who do not share our view that personal liberty should dictate this result should have no objection to your acting on these principles in this case."
Frank and Paul introduced legislation in 2011 to allow states to control their own cannabis destiny.
Within Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper held a conference call with AG Holder to help clarify the federal position while Boulder and Denver District Attorneys are dismissing small possession cases in advance of the new laws' enactment. Washington State, who passed a legalization initiative like Colorado, has similarly seen several counties dismiss charges before their law's December 6th enactment.
Other states are either trying to initiate legalization laws or are facing pressure from a voting public that is ready to take the next step. Reps from Maine and Rhode Island reported during a conference call last week that they were
re-introducing legalization legislation in their states, and other Midwest and
East Coast states have pledged to join suit in the upcoming legislative cycle.