Congressional delegation readies bill that would exempt Colorado from federal Controlled Substances Act
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal enforcement actions in Colorado against individuals for possession of marijuana would be a bad idea, Democratic Congressman Jared Polis said Friday.
Along with 15 other Democratic congressmen, Polis sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and DEA chief Michele Leonhart, urging the federal government to take no action against anyone who acts in compliance with the laws of Colorado, Washington and any other states that choose to regulate access to marijuana.
No Republican lawmakers signed on to the letter, showing how marijuana legalization could become yet another divisive partisan issue.
“The most prominent of our past collaborators are retiring, so we’ll be looking for new partners.But with changing opinions we’re hopeful to have new supporters on the other side of the aisle,” said Chris Fitzgerald, Polis’s communications director.
Polis said he’s “concerned” that the Justice Department and DEA continue to threaten action against “individuals and businesses acting within the scope of their states’ laws on the medicinal use of marijuana,” saying those actions contradict formal guidance from the Justice Department.
The letter was signed by the following members of Congress: Steve Cohen (D-TN), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Barney Frank (D-MA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Sam Farr (D-CA), Jim Moran (D-VA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Adam Smith (D-WA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) and John Conyers (D-MI).
Along with the letter, the Colorado congressional delegation is working on legislation that would ensure that state laws regarding marijuana will not be pre-empted by the federal government. The bill got some bipartisan support from Republican Congressman Mike Coffman, who said he opposes marijuana legalization but respects the will of Colorado voters.
“I voted against Amendment 64 and I strongly oppose the legalization of marijuana, but I also have an obligation to respect the will of the voters given the passage of this initiative, and so I feel obligated to support this legislation,” Coffman said in a press release.
“Today I am proud to join with colleagues from both sides of the aisle on the ‘Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act’ to protect states’ rights and immediately resolve any conflict with the federal government,” said Congresswoman Diana DeGette, one of the bill’s primary sponsors.
“In Colorado we’ve witnessed the aggressive policies of the federal government in their treatment of legal medicinal marijuana providers. My constituents have spoken and I don’t want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking other punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens,” she said. Read the full press release here.
The full text of the letter is below, attached and can also be accessed by clicking here.
Dear Attorney General Holder and Administrator Leonhart:
We are writing to urge federal law enforcement to consider carefully the recent decisions by the people of Colorado and Washington to legalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use by adults. Under the new laws, each state will establish a comprehensive regulatory scheme governing the production, sale and personal use of marijuana. We believe that it would be a mistake for the federal government to focus enforcement action on individuals whose actions are in compliance with state law.
We are concerned that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continue to threaten individuals and businesses acting within the scope of their states’ laws on the medicinal use of marijuana despite formal guidance on exercising prosecutorial discretion. These actions contradict assurances made by DOJ in 2009 that the Department would not prioritize criminal charges against those who act in compliance with state law. It is also a poor use of limited federal resources. We hope your agencies will not take a similar approach with regard to individuals and businesses who comply with Colorado’s and Washington’s new laws, each of which were approved with overwhelming public support.
As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once observed, states are the laboratories of democracy. The people of Colorado and Washington have decided that marijuana ought to be regulated much like alcohol, with strong and efficient regulation of production, retail sales, and distribution, coupled with strict laws against underage use and driving while intoxicated. The voters chose to eliminate the illegal marijuana market controlled by cartels and criminals and recognized the disproportionate impact that marijuana prohibition has on minorities. These states have chosen to move from a drug policy that spends millions of dollars turning ordinary Americans into criminals toward one that will tightly regulate the use of marijuana while raising tax revenue to support cash-strapped state and local governments. We believe this approach embraces the goals of existing federal marijuana law: to stop international trafficking, deter domestic organized criminal organizations, stop violence associated with the drug trade and protect children.
While we recognize that other states have chosen a different path, and further understand that the federal government has an important role to play in protecting against interstate shipments of marijuana leaving Colorado or Washington, we ask that your Departments take no enforcement action against anyone who acts in compliance with the laws of Colorado, Washington and any other states that choose to regulate access to marijuana for medicinal or personal use. The voters of these states chose, by a substantial margin, to forge a new and effective policy with respect to marijuana. The tide of public opinion is changing, both at the ballot box and in state legislatures across the country. We believe that the collective judgment of voters and state lawmakers must be respected. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.