The Senate is going to pot.
According to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Judiciary Committee is planning a hearing early next year to examine federal policy towards two states that legalized marijuana in November.
Colorado and Washington each passed ballot measures in 2012 permitting residents to enjoy the drug recreationally and setting up a system to regulate and tax its use.
But there’s still a cloud hanging over the pot party. Federal drug laws are still unchanged and the White House has made clear that it’s not on board with legalization on any level. President Obama and the Justice Department are still considering their best response. Options include lawsuits to block portions of the state referenda or even federal prosecution of low-level drug offenders, a job currently left to state and local governments.
In a letter to White House drug czar and former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, Leahy asked for an explanation as to how the White House intends to handle newly lax state marijuana laws. One particular concern is whether state employees tasked with carrying out regulations might be vulnerable to federal charges.
“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 wrote.
He also indicated that Congress should investigate legalization themselves, or at least a framework for letting states do so themselves.
“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,” Leahy wrote. “One option would be to amend the Federal Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law.”
You can read a copy of the full letter here.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.