My Take on the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings

My Take on the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings
Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont heads up the Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearings on federal marijuana policy

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont heads up the Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearings on federal marijuana policy

So here’s the problem…

Marijuana is illegal on a federal level, but the Department of Justice sent out a memo basically stating that feds would respect states rights when it comes down to legalization.

They set some rules though:

DOJ will still prosecute individuals or entities to prevent:

  • the distribution of marijuana to minors;
  • revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
  • the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
  • state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
  • violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana
  • drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
  • growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands;
  •  preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.

So, the states can feel free to make their own marijuana laws, but the feds will still have the authority to investigate and carry out raids as they deem fit?  How exactly is this respecting states rights?  Basically the federal government is saying that they don’t trust the state governments to oversee a marijuana legalization program.  It seems to me that the federal government just put a pretty tight noose around the necks of state and local law enforcement by saying, “you take action or we will”.

Let’s compare some of this to alcohol, which we all know is a much more harmful and dangerous substance than marijuana.  “Violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana”?  Are state liquor distributors allowed to have weapons in the store to defend their livelihood?  Is DRUNK driving less of a concern now that “DRUGGED” driving is on the front of the table?   I’m willing to bet that Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa went home and had a drink last night after the hearing.

Senator Grassley said that the DoJ memo sent, “the wrong message to both law enforcement and violators of federal law.”

Kevin Sabet from Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a drug prevention group, kept saying, “quote, unquote, medical marijuana” and “under the guise of medical marijuana”.  I have something to say to Kevin Sabet.  Marijuana is medicine, sir.  Marijuana is an extremely effective medicine and helps countless people tremendously.

I can tell you from personal experience that marijuana is better than the anti-enjoylife medications that the Department of Veteran’s Affairs prescribed me.  Marijuana replaced 40 medications for me, and I am no longer suicidal.  I would probably not be here to say this had I not taken my life into my own hands and quit the pills.  Cannabis oil has been proven to kill cancer cells (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/patient/page2).  You really need to retract the air quotes, Kevin… You look and sound like an asshole.

The hearings yesterday weren’t all negative though.  One bright spot was Sheriff John Urquhart from King County, Washington (Seattle).  He said, “”I am simply asking that the federal government allow banks to work with legitimate marijuana businesses who are licensed under this new state law”.

Banks are afraid to deal with marijuana based companies because of federal law, forcing dispensaries to run as cash only businesses and putting them at risk of robbery.  He also said, “what we have in Washington is not the wild, wild West. The message to my deputies has been very clear: You will enforce our new marijuana laws. You will write someone a ticket for smoking in public. You will enforce age limits. You will put unlicensed stores out of business.”

More law enforcement agencies need to follow Sheriff Urquhart’s lead and hand out bags of Doritos to marijuana consumers.

Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont said in his opening statement, “We must have a smarter approach to marijuana policy. “The absolute criminalization of personal marijuana use has contributed to our nation’s soaring prison population and has disproportionately affected people of color.”

Senator Leahy presided over the hearings yesterday and he was very clear that he truly believes the Department of Justice needs to change their stance and fully respect states rights.  He definitely thinks that the DEA should back off when it comes to legal marijuana distributors and businesses.

James Cole, Deputy Attorney General of the United States said, “We’re talking to bank regulators… about ways that this can be dealt with” in response to the banking issue.  Senator Leahy replied, “You might wanna talk with the DEA too.”

I concur with Senator Leahy and I’m glad that the SJC is taking a stand and holding hearings on this.

  • http://www.norml.org Keith Stroup

    I respectfully disagree with your negative assessment of the recent announcement by the DOJ that they will step aside and allow the two states (CO and WA) that have legalized marijuana to implement their new laws without federal interference, and the hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee that followed the announcement.

    I think this change in federal policy is the most important shift in federal marijuana policy in my lifetime. We still need to change federal law at some point, but we simply do not yet have the votes in Congress to do that. At least now these two states will have the next three years to move ahead with full legalization, without federal interference.

    Sometimes those on our side of the issue need to learn how to accept victory!

    Keith
    NORML Legal Counsel

    • http://www.phillynorml.org Mike Whiter

      Keith,

      I didn’t say it was a complete and total loss… I do accept this as a major move towards legalization, I just don’t completely agree with how they’re going about it. There is a lot of room for interpretation and a lot of room for improvement on federal policy. When I can smoke marijuana the way people drink alcohol, I’ll accept victory.