The Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Pat Leahy, Democrat from Vermont, wants the federal government to respect state laws regarding marijuana. Twenty states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana and two states-- Colorado and Washington-- have legalized it. Despite state laws the federal government could arrest anyone in these state for selling medical marijuana, or simply possessing small amounts.
Senator Leahy said in a release that he asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy James Cole to appear at a Judiciary Committee hearing next month to discuss the ever growing conflict between state and federal marijuana laws. The hearing is titled “Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.”
“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. “I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government.”
Leahy has pressed the Obama administration to determine its enforcement policy in light of state laws including writing to the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) about the issue. Leahy has also asked what assurances the administration can give to state officials responsible for the licensing of marijuana retailers to ensure they will not face criminal penalties for carrying out their duties under those state laws.
Leahy’s state of Vermont just decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana issuing tickets, like traffic tickets, rather than arresting an charging the user with a misdemeanor.
The Economics of Legalizing Medical Marijuana
The fact that medical marijuana is still against federal law has artificially driven the prices up for the patients who rely on it. Medical marijuana businesses benefit from exclusive monopolies granting them the right to sell legal pot. Monopolies almost always result in the business getting rich and the consumer getting the shaft. However, state measures still don’t end the risks of an FBI raid or Internal Revenue Service audit. Meanwhile, those same federal laws that prohibit growing, selling and using are helping keep medical marijuana prices high.
Medical marijuana is a billion-dollar industry and like any entrenched business, it’s fighting to keep what it has and shut out competitors. Dispensary owners, trade associations and groups representing the industry are deeply concerned — and in some cases actively fighting — ballot initiatives and legislation that could wreck their business model.
This spring, the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine joined the usual coalition of anti-pot forces that includes active law-enforcement groups, social conservatives and public health advocates to oppose a state bill that would legalize possession of small quantities of the drug.
Full legalization advocates, like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, say it’s all about the money. “There are people who are benefiting financially and would prefer to see nothing change that,” Erik Altieri, communications director for NORML’s northeast chapter told POLITICO.
Medical Marijuana and President Obama
The White House issued a statement saying the president believes the administration believes marijuana enforcement should be focused on cartels and violent drug kingpins. The president said that going after people for small amounts is not a good use of funds. The spokesman said the president is not ready to change federal marijuana laws at this time. That is why Leahy wants Holder to appear and clarify what exactly that means.
Since the days of Nixon and Reagan and the war on drugs, U.S. drug laws have classified marijuana the same as many other drugs like heroine and cocaine. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent locking people up—mostly African American males-- for possessing pot. More money is spent on arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating these people than we spend fighting violent cartels.
Dr. Sanji Gupta's CNN Documentary on Medical Marijuana
Dr. Sanji Gupta aired a documentary on CNN entitled WEED that found that many American children are getting relief from debilitating seizures with medical marijuana. Despite the fact those plants have been engineered to remove the THC that is responsible for the plant’s “high,” it is still a federal offense for those children to use the life-saving drug even in states that allow it. This is absurd.
There is a perfect storm of opposition to marijuana reform—money and religion. Those who are getting rich through monopolies are supported by religious organizations to insure that marijuana laws make the cartels even richer and deadlier. Maybe the Leahy hearing will help.
What do you think of this controversial issue? Have you engaged in local debates, or even just debates with your friends? Do you have any experience with medical marijuana? Leave a comment below and tell us your story.