More than four months after voters in Colorado and Washington State approved ballot resolutions legalizing the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana for adults, Attorney General Eric Holder has yet to announce how the Department of Justice will respond to the new laws. At a hearing today before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder testified that the administration is “still considering” what action, if any, the federal government will take on the issue.
At an appearance last week before the National Association of Attorneys General, Holder said that the Department was, “still in the process of reviewing both of the initiatives,” and that the review was in its, “last stages.” The delay has frustrated state officials tasked with hammering out regulations for how the new laws will be implemented.
Meanwhile, some opponents of marijuana legalization are pressuring the administration to challenge the Colorado and Washington laws in court. Yesterday, Florida-based lobbying group Save our Society From Drugs released an open letter to federal officials asserting that, “Our nation urgently needs action from Attorney General Holder to ensure that federal marijuana laws are enforced, federal preemption is asserted, and our obligations under international drug treaties are honored.” “Preemption” refers to the legal doctrine, established by the U.S. Constitution, that no state may pass a law that directly contradicts a federal law. The letter was signed by eight former Administrators of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The issue is politically dicey for President Obama, whose aggressive actions against medical marijuana have disheartened many pro-pot activists. During the 2008 election, Obama pledged that he was, “not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws.” Since taking office, however, the Department has launched raids on more than 100 dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal. The disconnect between political rhetoric and reality recently led Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, to write that, “While Obama’s term began with great promise for drug policy reformers, in the past two years it has been difficult to distinguish Obama’s drug policies from those of his White House predecessors.”
For decades, the public has been growing increasingly supportive of marijuana reform. A 2011 Gallup poll found that 50 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing the drug, up from 34 percent just a decade ago.