Marijuana: Eighteen legislators ask feds to respect Colorado's Amendment 64

On Friday, Congresswoman Diana DeGette's office announced the introduction of the Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act, a bill intended to ensure that federal marijuana laws don't exempt the Colorado voter-approved Amendment 64 and a similar measure in Washington state. DeGette's also signed a letter with seventeen fellow legislators asking the Justice Department to respect pot laws in the two states. See the letter and get more details below.

Co-sponsors of the DeGette measure include Oregon's Earl Blumenauer, Tennessee's Steve Cohen and California's Sam Farr, as well as two colleagues from Colorado -- Jared Polis, a longtime supporter of marijuana reform, and, more surprisingly, Mike Coffman, a Republican who opposed the passage of Amendment 64.

"I voted against Amendment 64," he confirmed in a statement, "and I strongly oppose the legalization of marijuana, but I also have an obligation to respect the will of the voters given the passage of this initiative, and so I feel obligated to support this legislation."

The bill, shared below, would make minor changes in one section of the Controlled Substances Act, as well as inserting what's labeled a "Special Rule Regarding State Marihuana [sic] Laws." The suggested passage, featuring an antiquated spelling of "marijuana," reads:

In the case of any State law that pertains to marihuana, no provision of this title shall be construed as indicating an intent on the part of Congress to occupy the field in which that provision operates, including criminal penalties, to the exclusion of State law on the same subject matter, nor shall any provision of this title be construed as preempting any State law.
The aforementioned letter, on view in its entirety below, urges a similar approach to Amendment 64 and Washington's Initiative 502 by the U.S. Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Here's an excerpt from the document, addressed to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and DEA administrator Michele Leonhart:
We are writing to urge federal law enforcement to consider carefully the recent decisions by the people of Colorado and Washington to legalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use by adults. Under the new laws, each state will establish a comprehensive regulatory scheme governing the production, sale and personal use of marijuana. We believe that it would be a mistake for the federal government to focus enforcement action on individuals whose actions are in compliance with state law.
By the way, Polis had a memorable encounter with Leonhart in June, during which the DEA administrator repeatedly refused to say that marijuana was any less harmful than heroin. Here's a video of the exchange:

Bill co-sponsor Coffman did not sign the letter, unlike Polis, DeGette, Blumenauer, Cohen and Farr. However, more than ten other legislators who didn't add their name to the legislation have, including Colorado Representative Ed Perlmutter.

Why has Perlmutter not yet become a co-sponsor of DeGette's proposal?

Continue for more about the legislators' letter regarding Amendment 64. Speaking to our Sam Levin on Friday, Leslie Oliver, Perlmutter's spokesperson, said, "He hasn't had a chance to fully review Diana's proposal. The voters of Colorado passed this measure, and so we've got to figure out a way to make it work with federal law."

Oliver added, "Ed's just working on his own timeline.... Diana's bill may be the best vehicle...but it may be too soon to know. He's going to take his time and make the right decision."

A similar caution is being exercised by Colorado's senators -- one of whom actively opposed Amendment 64. Note that on October 30, just days before the election, Senator Michael Bennet officially announced his opposition to proposal, authorizing the No on 64 campaign to release the following statement on his behalf: "A constitutional amendment to make this type of change leaves cause for concern. Looking at this as a parent, it goes too far."

After the vote, The Colorado Independent wondered if Bennet might introduce legislation similar to DeGette's in the senate, despite his dislike of the act. Bennet spokesman Adam Bozzi responded with the following:
Right now, Senator Bennet is waiting to see the results of the conversations between the state of Colorado and the Justice Department. As you know the governor and attorney general have requested guidance from DOJ about how the Justice Department will respond to Colorado's marijuana vote.
Mark Udall, Bennet's fellow Colorado Senate, feels likewise.

"At this point, Senator Udall is not going to be introducing any legislation or companion bills in the Senate," says his spokesman, Mike Saccone. "He believes it's important to not only study the issue, but also to see how the Department of Justice responds to Governor [John] Hickenlooper and [Colorado] Attorney General [John] Suthers," who recently took part in a conference call with Attorney General Holder on the subject of Amendment 64. Thus far, Hickenlooper's office is keeping the content of that discussion under wraps, other than to say that all parties understand the urgency of the Obama administration clarifying its policy.

Look below to see the letter to Holder and Leonhart. That's followed by Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act.

Representatives Letter to Eric Holder and Michele Leonhart
Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Mike Coffman, Amendment 64 opponent, to back federal exemption bill."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts