Reaction to U.S. Senate Marijuana Hearing

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing today on the federal-state divide over marijuana laws. The following is a statement from Marijuana Majority’s Tom Angell:

“It’s about time our federal lawmakers took up this issue. Polls show that the majority of voters support legalizing and regulating marijuana, but far too many elected officials continue to act like this issue is still some dangerous third-rail of politics that’s too dangerous to touch. This is a serious, important and mainstream issue, and it’s good to see politicians finally treating it as such.

“As senators made clear today with important questions about legal marijuana providers’ access to banking, armored car services and tax write-offs that are available to any other business, the Obama administration’s recent memo to prosecutors is a good first step, but it will not remove all of the roadblocks that stand in the way of effective implementation of state marijuana laws. The next step is for Congress to amend the Controlled Substances Act to make it clear that America is moving in a new direction when it comes to marijuana policy.

“As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse pointed out today, the Obama administration has repeatedly shifted its marijuana policy since 2009, when it released a memo saying that medical marijuana providers operating in ‘clear and unambiguous compliance’ with state law would not be a focus for federal law enforcement. Since that time, though, this president has overseen the closure of more state-legal marijuana businesses in one term than were shuttered during two terms of the Bush administration. It remains to be seen whether prosecutors will follow through this time and finally help the president uphold his campaign pledge to respect state marijuana laws.

“One thing the the president could do right now to signal that he’s serious about this most recently announced shift in policy would be to use his commutation powers to release some of the medical marijuana prisoners that have been put behind bars by his federal agencies.”

Reaction to Federal Marijuana Policy Announcement

Today the U.S. Department of Justice finally announced the Obama administration’s response to the historic marijuana legalization measures that were approved by voters in Colorado and Washington State in November. The following is a statement from Marijuana Majority’s Tom Angell:

“It’s nice to hear that the Obama administration doesn’t at this point intend to file a lawsuit to overturn the will of the voters in states that have opted to modernize their marijuana policies, but it remains to be seen how individual U.S. attorneys will interpret the new guidance and whether they will continue their efforts to close down marijuana businesses that are operating in accordance with state law.

“It’s significant that U.S. attorneys will no longer be able to use the size or profitability of a legal marijuana business to determine whether or not it should be a target for prosecution, but the guidelines seem to leave some leeway for the feds to continue making it hard for state-legal marijuana providers to do business.

“The administration’s statement that it doesn’t think busting individual users should be a priority remains meaningless, as it has never been a federal focus to go after people just for using small amounts of marijuana. The real question is whether the president will call off his federal agencies that have been on the attack and finally let legal marijuana businesses operate without harassment, or if he wants the DEA and prosecutors to keep intervening as they have throughout his presidency and thus continue forcing users to buy marijuana on the illegal market where much of the profits go to violent drug cartels and gangs.

“In all, today’s announcement represents a step in a right direction and a recognition by the administration that the politics of marijuana are rapidly shifting in favor of those who support legalization. However, my optimism is tempered by the fact that despite the Justice Department’s 2009 announcement that it shouldn’t be a priority to bust medical marijuana providers operating in accordance with state law, this administration went on to close down more state-legal marijuana businesses in one term than the Bush administration did in two terms.

“Polls from Pew and Gallup show that a supermajority of Americans wants the president to follow through on his 2008 pledges to respect marijuana laws, and that’s what advocates will continue pressing him to do.”