The top U.S. law enforcement official has been asked to explain the Obama administration’s position on legalized pot to the Senate.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a supporter of legalization in Colorado and Washington, has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to testify before the committee next month.
Clarification Wanted From The Federal Government
Leahy wants Holder to clear the air on how the federal government will respond to legalized pot once it becomes a reality in those two states early next year. Holder has promised an explanation “soon,” but none has been forthcoming.
States and municipalities have been operating in a legal haze as they prepare for retail weed, unsure of when or if the feds will crack down. They’ve asked the administration for clarification, with little response.
Leahy sent a letter to the administration in December asking for guidance on its stance on legalized marijuana. In February, Holder said an explanation would be released “relatively soon.” That still hasn’t happened.
“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.”
A Hazy Explanation?
That isn’t to say there has been no signal from the Justice Department. Officials in Colorado say they believe they have “tacit approval” from Justice to continue with legalized cannabis.
“They’re well aware of what we’ve been up to,” an unnamed Colorado source told Talking Points Memo in late August. “I do think it’s fair to say that we have their tacit approval at this point.”
Though Justice never gave an explicit OK during discussions with Colorado officials, the agency was kept routinely up to date on developments in the state and never told officials there to stop implementation. They believe that signals Justice doesn’t plan to interfere.
States Are Being Cautious
Officials in Washington are slightly more cautious. They wouldn’t call the federal government’s position tacit approval, but did say the administration hadn’t told them to stop implementing legal marijuana.
“They’ve not indicated that they’ve going to try to stop us,” said David Postman, spokesman for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “We’re operating as if this is a go, and we haven’t been told otherwise.”
In December, President Obama said in an interview with ABC News that his administration wouldn’t consider it a top priority to prosecute pot users in states where it’s legal.
“We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” Obama said. “It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal.”