Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy yesterday announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hold a hearing to discuss the conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws next month.
Both medical and recreational marijuana laws will be on the table for discussion, notably whether or not state employees implementing the programs will be safe from prosecution however Leahy also feels that the state's rights to enact recreational laws should be respected.
"It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal," Leahy said in a statement. "I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government."
Leahy has also invited Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey to speak at the hearing. Holder has recently come out in favor of loosening some drug sentencing laws and clarified how his department would be spending their resources to target large-scale criminal organizations, however he has still not directly commented on laws passed in Washington and Colorado that legalized the possession and sales of limited amounts of cannabis.
Leahy can't force Holder to make a decision on Washington and Colorado, but as the Marijuana Majority's Tom Angel points out to the Denver Westword, it would be awfully hard for Holder to dodge that question.
"It'd have been nice if the administration had implemented the president's campaign pledges on day one, or if Holder had at least been truthful when he said the administration's response to two states legalizing marijuana was coming 'relatively soon,'" Angell continues. "But it looks like the White House is finally going to have to come up with a policy thanks to Chairman Leahy's invitation for the attorney general to testify specifically about this issue."
The move by Leahy is a good sign of progress, especially on the heels of the Obama administration last week announcing that they wouldn't be shifting their position on marijuana legalization any time soon.
"The administration's position on this has been clear and consistent for some time now that while the prosecution of drug traffickers remains an important priority, the president and the administration believe that targeting individual marijuana users, especially those with serious illnesses and their caregivers, is not the best allocation for federal law enforcement resources," White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said August 21.
Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project praised Leahy's decision.
"By failing to recognize the decisions of voters and legislators in those states, current federal law is undermining their ability to implement and enforce those laws," he wrote in a statement. "Marijuana prohibition's days are numbered, and everyone in Washington knows that. It's time for Congress to stop ignoring the issue and develop a policy that allows states to adopt the most efficient and effective marijuana laws possible. We need to put the 'reefer madness' policies of the 1930s behind us and adopt an evidence-based approach for the 21st century."
In addition to the hearing, there are seven other proposed marijuana bills floating around Congress, including proposals that would allow for dispensaries to take business deductions on federal tax returns as well as bills that would legalize cannabis at the federal level and allow states to decide for themselves as to how they want to handle cannabis legalization.