|Sen. Patrick Leahy.|
Sen. Patrick Leahy yesterday pushed for historic strides in federal marijuana policy, including remedying banking conflicts and getting further assurance from federal prosecutors that states with legal marijuana laws enacted would be allowed to move forward with regulations and taxes.
“The absolute criminalization of personal marijuana use has contributed to our nation’s soaring prison population and has disproportionately affected people of color,” Leahy said at the hearing.
Much of the discussion centered around a recent memo from the Justice Department clarifying how federal prosecutors would allow recreational cannabis sales in Washington and Colorado so long as the stores follow state regulations. The memo was merely a suggestion, however, and prosecutors still have free reign to crack down on the centers as illegal operations at any time.
Some of the most talked-about testimony among the marijuana community online came from King County, Washington Sheriff John Urquart. He pointed out that the feds and Washington regulators have the same goals: keeping pot out of the hands of minors, keeping impaired drivers off the road and ending the funding of illegal criminal organizations.
“What we have in Washington is not the wild, wild West,” he said. “The message to my deputies has been very clear: You will enforce our new marijuana laws. You will write someone a ticket for smoking in public. You will enforce age limits. You will put unlicensed stores out of business.”
But it’s time the feds caught up with the states, notably with regards to banking laws. Current banking laws make it nearly impossible for legal medical marijuana businesses to hold accounts, meaning they have to rely more on cash transactions that make them targets for robberies and burglaries.
“I am simply asking that the federal government allow banks to work with legitimate marijuana businesses who are licensed under this new state law,” Urquhart said.
Those changes actually may be on the horizon, however. Deputy Attorney General James Cole said during the hearings that his office had started conversations with the Treasury Department about a possible fix to the banking woes.
Not everyone who testified was pro-pot, however. Project SAM
spokesmonkey spokesman Kevin Sabet warned that relaxing federal marijuana policy would create a public health epidemic.
“When we can prevent negative consequences of the commercial sale and production of marijuana now, why would we open the floodgates, hope for the best, and try with limited resources to patch everything up when things go wrong?” Sabet asked the panel.
Yeah, because drug dealers give a shit about asking your kids for an ID and all.
The other main dissenting voice came from Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa. He argued that marijuana legalization would be a public safety nightmare. He said that marijuana prohibition is “based on what science tells about this dangerous and addictive drug.”
Apparently Grassley has never actually read any research on cannabis whatsoever.
Still the conversation at the federal level is seen as a major step forward in a rapidly changing national perspective on cannabis. Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Dan Riffle praised the senate for starting the conversation. But he says the conversation can’t just stop here, real changes need to be made.
“The administration is doing its best to work around federal law, but a better approach would be to simply fix federal law and permanently resolve this conflict,” he said.