WASHINGTON, DC — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said in a statement Thursday that he intends to hold a hearing seeking information about how the Obama administration plans to respond to the successful marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington. Leahy said he expects to hold the hearing when Congress reconvenes early next year.
Leahy also released a letter he sent earlier this month to Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar’s office) asking him what recommendations the agency will make to the Justice Department and how, given the fiscal constraints the administration faces, it intends to use federal resources in light of the legalization votes in Colorado and Washington. The veteran Vermont lawmaker also asked Kerlikowske what assurances the administration can give to state officials responsible for the licensing of marijuana retailers to ensure they will face no criminal penalties for carrying out their duties under those state laws.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee has a significant interest in the effect of these developments on federal drug control policy,” Leahy wrote. “Legislative options exist to resolve the differences between federal and state law in this area and end the uncertainty that residents of Colorado and Washington now face. In order to give these options full consideration, the committee needs to understand how the administration intends to respond to the decision of the voters in Colorado and Washington. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.”
The Obama administration has yet to formally respond to the legalization votes, but Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday the Justice Department will announce “relatively soon” where it stands on federal enforcement of the pot laws in the two states.
“There is a tension between federal law and these state laws,” Holder said in response to questions after a speech in Boston. “I would expect the policy pronouncement that we’re going to make will be done relatively soon.”
A series of public opinion polls this month have found little public support for federal interference with state marijuana laws in states where it is legal, with majorities calling for the feds to keep out of the way. Support for federal non-interference is strongest among key Obama constituencies, including Democrats, independents, and young voters.