Legalised marijuana initiatives leave Federal government wrestling with policy

 

Washington

Senior administration officials acknowledged Friday that they are wrestling with how to respond to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, which directly violates federal drug law and is sparking a broad debate about the direction of US drug policy.

The most likely outcome will be that the Justice Department will prevent the laws from going into effect by announcing that federal law preempts the state initiatives, which would make marijuana legal for recreational use, law enforcement sources said. But the White House and the Justice Department have not made a decision yet, senior officials said.

"I really don't know what we're going to do," said one high-ranking law enforcement official involved in the decision who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Washington state and Colorado approved initiatives on Tuesday to decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Oregon defeated a similar measure. Up to this point, the Justice Department and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy have been mute about the ballot initiatives. Before the election, the Justice Department did not respond to nine former administrators of the Drug Enforcement Administration who wrote a letter urging the administration to take a stance on the ballot proposals in all three states.

One administration official Friday suggested that the administration's silence was a deliberate strategy to avoid antagonizing liberal voters in Colorado, a crucial swing state.

"It was a battleground state," said the administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly.

In similar instances, officials have made the administration stance clear ahead of votes. In 2010, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that the administration opposed a pending California measure to legalize marijuana. That same year, the Justice Department sued Arizona to block its law cracking down on illegal immigrants because the administration said it violated federal statutes and was unconstitutional.

Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said he could not comment on the marijuana initiatives or discuss how the administration will respond. He deferred questions to the Justice Department. Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said at the press briefing Friday only that the Justice Department was reviewing both initiatives. Justice spokeswoman Nanda Chitre would not comment except to say that the department is "reviewing the ballot initiatives."

The Colorado and Washington laws go beyond provisions for the medical use of marijuana. Washington,D.C., and 18 states have passed laws making it legal to manufacture, distribute and possess marijuana for medicinal purposes.

While the Justice Department figures out how to respond, state and local officials in Colorado, Washington — and Mexico — are confused about how to proceed. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and the state's attorney general spoke to Holder on Friday.

"They emphasized the need for the federal government to articulate what its position will be related to Amendment 64," said Eric Brown, the governor's spokesman. "Everyone shared a sense of urgency and agreed to continue talking about the issue."

Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, has not scheduled a call with Holder but said her state is "entering uncharted waters."

The law there goes into effect Dec. 9. Gregoire's spokesman, Cory Curtis, said the governor has questions about what Washington should do in the next month.

Colorado Amendment 64 would take effect 30 days after the secretary of state certifies the initiative, which will be Jan. 5, according to Brown.

Marijuana distribution is the largest source of revenue for the Mexican cartels, according to law enforcement officials.

Lawrence Payne, DEA spokesman, said that more marijuana is seized at the southwest border than any other illegal drug from Mexico. Last year, 1,962,285 kilos of marijuana were seized compared with 23 ,797 kilos of cocaine and 1,308 kilos of heroin.

Supporters of the measures argue that hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted on a failed war against marijuana. They contend that decriminalization would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, with the funds used for education, health care and other government services.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy strongly opposes the legalization of marijuana and the federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits the production, possession and sale of marijuana.

"According to scientists at the National Institutes of Health, the world's largest source of drug abuse research, marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory disease and cognitive impairment," ONDCP director Gil Kerlikowske wrote in a White House document.

"Studies also reveal that marijuana potency has almost tripled over the last 20 years, raising serious concerns about what this means for public health," wrote Kerlikowske, who is often referred to as the country's "drug czar."

The president's 2012 National Drug Control Strategy also states that "the legalization of drugs will not be considered."

"Making drugs more available and more accessible will not reduce drug use and its adverse consequences for public health and safety," according to the 61-page policy. "We will continue to educate young people and all Americans about the science on the harmful health effects of marijuana use."

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker