Dem senator demands answers on White House pot policy

Patrick Leahy wants to know how the federal government will handle the two states that legalized marijuana

Published December 13, 2012 7:50PM (EST)


Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., demanded answers from the federal government about how it will handle drug enforcement in Washington and Colorado, now that both states have legalized marijuana.

In a letter to Gil Kerlikowske, the administration's director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Leahy wrote:

The Senate Judiciary Committee has a significant interest in the effect of these developments on Federal drug control policy. How does the Office of National Drug Control Policy intend to prioritize Federal resources, and what recommendations are you making to the Department of Justice and other agencies in light of the choice by citizens of Colorado and Washington to legalize personal use of small amounts of marijuana? What assurance can and will the administration give to state officials involved in the licensing of marijuana retailers that they will not face Federal criminal penalties for carrying out duties assigned to them under state law?

Leahy, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, says that the committee will meet early next year to review current federal policy with respect to the two states, which both passed pot legalization by ballot referendum on Election Day.

The New York Times reported recently that the Obama administration and the Department of Justice are still considering how to proceed:

Even as marijuana legalization supporters are celebrating their victories in the two states, the Obama administration has been holding high-level meetings since the election to debate the response of federal law enforcement agencies to the decriminalization efforts.

Marijuana use in both states continues to be illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. One option is to sue the states on the grounds that any effort to regulate marijuana is pre-empted by federal law. Should the Justice Department prevail, it would raise the possibility of striking down the entire initiatives on the theory that voters would not have approved legalizing the drug without tight regulations and licensing similar to controls on hard alcohol.

By Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at

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2012 Elections Colorado Drug Laws Marijuana Patrick J. Leahy Washington White House