State moves on mar­i­juana leave law­mak­ers DAZED AND CON­FUSED

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY S.A. MILLER

Capi­tol Hill law­mak­ers are dazed and con­fused when it comes to deal­ing with the grow­ing num­ber of states le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana use, which has cre­ated a glar­ing con­flict with federal statutes out­law­ing cannabis as a Sched­ule I drug — the clas­si­fi­ca­tion for the most dan­ger­ous con­trolled sub­stances.

“I’m not aware that Congress is do­ing any­thing,” said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Ore­gon Demo­crat. “I don’t think any­body wants to wade into it.”

A cou­ple of dozen House law­mak­ers are back­ing bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion that would sus­pend federal mar­i­juana laws in states that have le­gal­ized the drug, but the ef­fort has stalled in com­mit­tee. Most Repub­li­cans are urg­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to strictly en­force federal laws and crack down on the surge in le­gal­iza­tion.

“Congress hasn’t le­gal­ized any mar­i­juana, and we should not. We have an ex­ec­u­tive branch that needs to be en­forc­ing the cur­rent law, and they are not do­ing that,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Repub­li­can.

The Demo­crat-run Se­nate is steer­ing clear of the mar­i­juana is­sue.

At­tempts by The Wash­ing­ton Times to broach the sub­ject with sev­eral sen­a­tors were quickly re­buffed, in­clud­ing by Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, one of the most lib­eral Democrats, and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, one of the most con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans.

Mean­while, states are in a steady pro­ces­sion to de­crim­i­nal­ize or le­gal­ize mar­i­juana use.

Med­i­cal mar­i­juana has been le­gal­ized in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Six­teen states have de­crim­i­nal­ized pos­ses­sion of the drug, and two states — Wash­ing­ton and Colorado — have le­gal­ized mar­i­juana for recre­ational use. Florida could be­come the next state to le­gal­ize med­i­cal mar­i­juana when the is­sue is put be­fore vot­ers in Novem­ber.

“The White House and mem­bers of Congress are play­ing a very ex­pen­sive and dan­ger­ous game of chicken; both branches have the author­ity to ini­ti­ate a change to mar­i­juana’s cur­rently sched­ul­ing, but nei­ther seem to want to be the first to act,” said Erik Altieri, spokesman for the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Re­form of Mar­i­juana Laws.

A House sub­com­mit­tee at­tempted to delve into the le­gal morass of polic­ing mar­i­juana laws, in­clud­ing en­force­ment of laws on federal property and con­gres­sional veto power over D.C. or­di­nances, but only a hand­ful of law­mak­ers showed up at the hear­ing Fri­day.

“African-Amer­i­cans are nearly four times more likely to be ar­rested for pos­ses­sion,” said Demo­crat Eleanor Holmes Nor­ton, the District’s non­vot­ing con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tive. She tes­ti­fied in de­fense of the city’s re­cently adopted law to de­crim­i­nal­ize mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion.

Congress has un­til July to ex­er­cise its power to over­turn the D.C. law, which would re­duce the charge for pos­sess­ing up to an ounce of mar­i­juana to a civil in­frac­tion with a $25 fine.

Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man John L. Mica, Florida Repub­li­can, held up a fake joint to il­lus­trate the con­flict over polic­ing mar­i­juana laws. He joked that his staff rolled it be­cause “they have more ex­pe­ri­ence.”

If the D.C. law takes ef­fect, hold­ing a mar­i­juana joint on Capi­tol Hill would ex­pose Mr. Mica to federal penal­ties of up to a year in jail and not less than a $1,000 fine be­cause he was on federal property.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment has in­structed state at­tor­neys gen­eral not to en­force federal mar­i­juana laws that con­flict with state laws ex­cept in eight spe­cific ar­eas, in­clud­ing on federal property such as na­tional parks and federal build­ings. Thus, in Colorado, a per­son could be ar­rested for smok­ing mar­i­juana in Rocky Moun­tain Na­tional Park.

Nearly one-quar­ter of the District is federal property, and the city is home to 26 federal agencies re­spon­si­ble for law en­force­ment. “It isn’t a truly lo­cal mat­ter,” Mr. Mica said.

A bill in­tro­duced last year with bi­par­ti­san sup­port would state that federal cannabis laws could not in­ter­fere in states where med­i­cal mar­i­juana is le­gal. An­other bill would le­gal­ize mar­i­juana na­tion­ally by re­mov­ing it from the sched­ule of con­trolled dan­ger­ous sub­stances.

The House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee shelved both pro­pos­als.

The House last month shot down bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion that would have al­lowed Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs doc­tors in states with le­gal med­i­cal mar­i­juana to dis­cuss the drug with pa­tients. Sup­port­ers cel­e­brated it as a sign of progress be­cause the 222-195 vote was rel­a­tively nar­row and in­cluded the sup­port of 22 Repub­li­cans.


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