Nearly eight months after Washington voters passed a binding cannabis legalization initiative with an impressive 55% showing, the federal government is still yet to have made any definitive public statements as to what it is going to do regarding what is now such a clear conflict: between established federal laws and customs prohibiting any use, cultivation or sale of cannabis, for whatever reason–personal, medical and banning domestically-cultivated industrial hemp–and states whose citizens are leading the way at apparently dismantling a certainly failed 75-year-old federal prohibition against cannabis.
Frustrated by a lack of federal response and political leaderships seven members of the Washington’s congressional delegation have written a letter to the Obama Administration (specifically Attorney General Holder, who told Congress in public testimony months ago that the administration would have public statements “soon”) seeking guidance and clarity.
The members of the Senate and Congress who’ve signed the letter are both Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well as Representatives Adam Smith, Jim McDermott, Suzan DelBene, Denny Heck and Derek Kilmer.
Apparent opponents of reform, Representatives Rick Larsen, Dave Reichert, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Doc Hastings did not sign onto the letter.
In other news regarding Washington moving forward with their cannabis legalization efforts as directed by the voters, the soon to be renamed ‘WA Liquor and Cannabis Control Board’, held public hearing yesterday that can be viewed and watched here:
The federal government’s anti-drug efforts are inefficient and ineffective, according to a just released report issued by the Congressional watchdog agency, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).
As if we didn’t know.
The GAO report assessed whether the Obama administration’s anti-drug strategies, as articulated by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (the ONDCP aka the Drug Czar’s office) in its 2010 National Drug Control Strategy report, have yet to achieve its stated goals.
The answer? They haven’t.
States the GAO:
“The public health, social, and economic consequences of illicit drug use, coupled with the constrained fiscal environment of recent years, highlight the need to ensure that federal programs efficiently and effectively use their resources to address this problem. ONDCP has developed a 5-year Strategy to reduce illicit drug use and its consequences, but our analysis shows lack of progress toward achieving four of the Strategy’s five goals for which primary data are available.”
In particular, the GAO criticized the administration for failing to adequately address rising levels of youth marijuana consumption. The GAO also rebuffed the ONDCP’s allegation that increased rates adolescent marijuana use are a result of the passage of statewide laws decriminalizing the plant or allowing for its therapeutic use.
“Other factors, including state laws and changing attitudes and social norms regarding drugs, may also affect drug use. We examined studies on three of these other factors, which we refer to as societal factors, which may affect youth marijuana use. … The studies that assessed the effect of medical marijuana laws that met our review criteria found mixed results on effects of the laws on youth marijuana use. … [S]tudies that assessed the effect of marijuana decriminalization that met our review criteria found little to no effect of the laws on youth marijuana use.”
You can read the full GAO report here.
Brookings Institute: Marijuana Policy and Presidential Leadership: How to Avoid a Federal-State Train WreckApril 12, 2013
As previewed last week on NORML’s blog, the Brookings Institute is convening a cannabis policy forum on Monday, April 15.
Excerpts from the Brookings’ press release and description of the issues tackled by Brookings scholar and noted legal writer and commentator Stuart Taylor, Jr. are found below.
Mr. Taylor’s thoughtful and dynamic analysis and policy recommendations are here.
Of equal value and incredibly informative are two accompanying appendixes:
Appendix One: The Obama Administration’s Approach To Medical Marijuana: A Study In Chaos
Appendix Two: Conflicts Of Laws: A Quick Orientation to Marijuana Laws At The Federal Level and CO and WA
Stuart Taylor, Jr. examines how the federal government and the eighteen states (plus the District of Columbia) that have partially legalized medical or recreational marijuana or both since 1996 can be true to their respective laws, and can agree on how to enforce them wisely while avoiding federal-state clashes that would increase confusion and harm communities and consumers.
* * *
This paper seeks to persuade even people who think legalization is a bad idea that the best way to serve the federal interest in protecting public health and safety is not for the federal government to seek an end to state legalization. To the contrary, Taylor asserts, a federal crackdown would backfire by producing an atomized, anarchic, state-legalized but unregulated marijuana market that federal drug enforcers could neither contain nor force the states to contain.
In this broad-ranging primer on the legal challenges surrounding marijuana legalization, Taylor makes the following points:
- The best way to serve the federal interest in protecting public health and safety is for the federal government to stand aside when it comes to legalization at the state-level.
- The federal government should nonetheless use its considerable leverage to ensure that state regulators protect the federal government’s interests in minimizing exports across state lines, sales outside the state-regulated system, sales of unduly large quantities, sales of adulterated products, sales to minors, organized crime involvement, and other abuses.
- Legalizing states, for their part, must provide adequate funding for their regulators as well as clear rules to show that they will be energetic in protecting federal as well as state interests. If that sort of balance is struck, a win-win can be achieved.
- The Obama Administration and legalizing states should take advantage of a provision of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to hammer out clear, contractual cooperation agreements so that state-regulated marijuana businesses will know what they can and cannot safely do.
- The time for presidential leadership on marijuana policy is now. The CSA also gives the administration ample leverage to insist that the legalizing states take care to protect the federal interests noted above.
Stuart also surveys (1) what legalizing states can and cannot do without violating federal law; (2) the Obama’s administration’s approach to medical marijuana and; (3) current marijuana law at the federal level and in Colorado and Washington State.
Members of Congress reintroduced legislation this week to protect state-authorized medical marijuana patients from federal prosecution.
House Bill 689, the States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, would ensure that medical cannabis patients in states that have approved its use will no longer have to fear arrest or prosecution from federal law enforcement agencies. It states, “No provision of the Controlled Substances Act shall prohibit or otherwise restrict in a State in which marijuana may be prescribed or recommended by a physician for medical use under applicable State law.”
The measure also calls for the federal government to reclassify cannabis so that it is no longer categorized as a Schedule I prohibited substance with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. It states: “Not later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration shall, based upon the recommendation under paragraph (1), issue a notice of proposed rulemaking for the rescheduling of marijuana within the Controlled Substances Act, which shall include a recommendation to list marijuana as other than a Schedule I or Schedule II.”
In January, a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied petitioners request to overturn the Obama administration’s July 2011 rejection of an administrative petition that sought to initiate hearings regarding the reclassification of marijuana under federal law.
Separate federal legislation, House Bill 710: The Truth in Trials Act, which provides an affirmative defense in federal court for defendants whose actions were in compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their state was also reintroduced this week in the US House of Representatives.
Those who wish to contact their member of Congress in support of these federal measures can do so by clicking here.
Huffington Post reporters Ryan Grimm and Ryan Reilly publish one of the most comprehensive and insightful pieces to date on the current friction between state and federal laws regarding cannabis in America, and conclude that federal prosecutors at the regional level—not elected policymakers or department leaders in Washington—are largely creating an ad hoc enforcement policy from state-to-state.