Marijuana: Can Senator Patrick Leahy force Eric Holder to talk Colorado pot?

Last week, the White House finally talked pot, albeit mainly to reiterate statements made by President Barack Obama last year. As such, members of the Colorado cannabis community were left to wonder how long the current administration could stretch Attorney General Eric Holder's statement last March about a federal decision on Amendment 64 coming "soon." Now, however, playing coy just got that much harder -- because Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy will likely put Holder on the spot at a hearing in a few short weeks.

The news comes from Roll Call, which reports that Leahy, who elicited the "soon" comment from Holder at a late-winter get-together of the Senate Judiciary Committee, plans to invite the AG and his deputy, James Cole, to testify at a new session on September 10.

The reported goal of the hearing: Leahy's belief that state marijuana laws like the ones in Colorado should be respected.

Of course, Leahy can't compel Holder and Cole to announce an Obama administration decision about Amendment 64 or a similar measure in Washington state. But dodging the subject again will be that much more difficult for them, especially considering that by the 10th, six months will have passed since the attorney general implied an already delayed determination was just around the corner.

Eric Holder speaking before the American Bar Association earlier this month.
Eric Holder speaking before the American Bar Association earlier this month.

Stephen Downing, a retired deputy chief with the Los Angeles Police Department who's currently a board member with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcers who oppose the war on drugs, thinks the time has come for the feds to formally back off from the threat of tough measures against states like Colorado.

"Just as happened during the prohibition of alcohol, states are well ahead of the federal government in developing sensible marijuana policies," Downing says in a statement. "Right now, local law enforcement are doing everything they can to enforce these democratically enacted laws, but inconsistencies between stated policy and actions on behalf of the Justice Department have made that impossible."

Adds the Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell, "It's encouraging that top national lawmakers like Chairman Leahy are getting as frustrated as local officials are with the White House's refusal to announce whether they're going to follow through on President Obama's campaign pledges to respect local marijuana laws. While the delay in a federal response to Amendment 64 has allowed state regulators to move forward with implementing the program that voters overwhelmingly approved without interference, the Obama administration's continuing silence has undoubtedly created uncertainty and confusion.

"It'd have been nice if the administration had implemented the president's campaign pledges on day one, or if Holder had at least been truthful when he said the administration's response to two states legalizing marijuana was coming 'relatively soon,'" Angell continues. "But it looks like the White House is finally going to have to come up with a policy thanks to Chairman Leahy's invitation for the attorney general to testify specifically about this issue."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: White House finally discusses pot -- but not Colorado weed laws."

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