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 Attorney General Eric Holder’s Drug Reform Proposals

Today, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder backed proposals to reduce America’s reliance on incarceration. In a speech to the American Bar Association, Holder endorsed Congressional legislation that would scale back mandatory minimum sentences, and sent guidance to U.S. attorneys directing them to refrain from subjecting people accused of low-level drug offenses to the most severe sentences.

The following is a statement from Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell:

“The attorney general’s remarks represent a good first step toward scaling back the failed ‘war on drugs.’ These proposals will allow some people charged with drug offenses to have opportunities to put their lives back together sooner and will save taxpayers some money that is now being wasted putting human beings in cages for no good reason whatsoever. However, the criminal justice system should not just have less of a role in the effort to address the medical problem of drug abuse, it should have no role.

“The real value of these proposals will be in the implementation, which drug policy reform advocates have good reason to be wary about. For example, despite a 2009 Justice Department memo urging U.S. attorneys not to go after marijuana businesses that are legal under state law, more state-legal medical marijuana providers were shuttered by federal actions during the first term of the Obama administration than were closed during George W. Bush’s two terms. And, we’re still waiting for the administration to announce its response to the marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington, a policy that the attorney general has been saying is coming ‘relatively soon’ since December. If the administration is serious about using law enforcement resources in a smarter way, it should be a no-brainer to strongly direct federal prosecutors to respect the majority of voters by allowing these groundbreaking state laws to be implemented without interference.

“Clearly, drug policy reformers have a lot of work ahead of us to make sure that the administration’s deeds match its words, but today’s remarks by the attorney general give us a lot to work with.”