(MintPress) – About four months after voters in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Americans will soon learn how the federal government plans to handle state marijuana legalization laws.
At the National Association of Attorneys General annual conference, Holder said the Justice Department was reviewing the issue and will make a decision soon.
“We are, I think, in the last states of that review and are trying to make the determination as to what the policy ramifications are going to be, what our international ramifications are,” he said. Holder concluded by saying the people in the states deserve an answer and they will have one “relatively soon.”
States may not have an answer yet from the federal government, but that hasn’t prevented multiple states across the U.S. from pursuing legislative action efforts of their own. For example, on the same day as Holder’s announcement, legislative committees in New Mexico and Hawaii approved bills to decriminalize marijuana possession and Oregon lawmakers introduced a legalization bill, as did Rhode Island.
Mint Press News also learned that Minnesota plans to announce legislation legalizing medical marijuana within the next few weeks.
Holder’s announcement comes about a month after he met with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, about the state’s recreational legalization effort known as Initiative-502 (I-502). Inslee called the meeting with the attorney general “very satisfying” and “a confidence builder,” even though Holder didn’t say anything about the federal government’s intentions or whether or not it planned to crack down on Washington state’s allowance of recreational legalization or look the other way.
“We went in thinking we should continue with rule-making, and nothing I heard should dissuade us,” Inslee said. “We spent some time talking about how the initiative would work, how the regulatory process would work. He listened with great interest, and I appreciated that,” he added.
If the federal government does decide to oppose the law, Washington state’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson says he has a team of lawyers in his office preparing to make the best legal case for upholding I-502.
“The one thing that I really emphasized, and what the governor emphasized was, and I said it directly to Attorney General Holder – look, we want to avoid a legal fight here. We want to find a pathway for working with the federal government. That said, obviously, I made it clear to Attorney General Holder that if it comes to it, the attorney general’s office in Washington state will be prepared if we need to go to a legal fight.”
Federal fight against marijuana
In his 2008 bid for the White House, President Obama made statements indicating that if elected the federal government would not crack down on medical-marijuana prosecutions like previous administrations, but his actions didn’t match his words.
In a recent interview with Mint Press News, Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a marijuana legalization advocacy group, said the federal government has continued to raid large-scale marijuana retailers around the country, and as of November 2012, Obama had shut down more dispensaries that President George W. Bush did in his eight years in office.
One state that has borne the brunt of the federal government’s crackdown on marijuana is California. Many well-respected medical marijuana dispensaries have been shut down in the state in recent months by the federal government’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) program, even though 67 percent of California voters oppose the shutdowns.
An independent, nonpartisan poll from the The Field Poll, which was released on Wednesday, found that a “54 to 43 percent majority now backs fully legalizing the sale of cannabis and regulating and taxing it like alcohol.” When the Field Poll first began measuring the opinions of Californians on this issue in 1969, just 13 percent of voters favored legalization.
This support of marijuana legalization is not specific to just California either. A poll by Quinnipiac University found that as of December 2012, voters supported legalization of marijuana 51 to 44 percent. As Mother Jones reported: “Even in the relatively conservative states of Florida, Iowa and Kentucky, polls released in the past week have shown majority support for recently proposed medical marijuana laws.”
Possible policies the Obama administration can make regarding its stance on marijuana legalization range from an aggressive crackdown, selective harassment of only larger business, basically leaving the states alone, or unilaterally “downscheduling” marijuana under federal law.
Currently marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, along with heroin, meaning the government believes this drug is highly addictive, high risk for abuse and doesn’t have any recognized medical benefits. “Downscheduling” the drug to a lower schedule such as classifying marijuana as a Schedule V drug would mean that marijuana was known to have a health benefit and was not likely to be abused as much as other drugs.