DENVER—Even U.S. Senate Democrats are tired of waiting for Attorney General Eric Holder to say something about Colorado’s marijuana law.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy announced Monday that the panel will hold a Sept. 10 hearing on the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws, particularly the legalization measures passed in 2012 by voters in Colorado and Washington.
“It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal,” said Leahy (D-Vt.) in a statement.
“I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government,” said Leahy.
Holder has said nothing in response to repeated requests from Colorado lawmakers, led by Gov. John HIckenlooper and Attorney General John Suthers, for guidance on how to proceed with implementing Amendment 64, which legalizes recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and over.
Holder told the National Association of Attorneys General he would issue an advisory on the Colorado and Washington legalization measures “soon,” adding, “We’re in the last stages of that review.”
That was Feb. 26. In the meantime, Colorado officials are proceeding with the timeline mandated in Amendent 64, which requires the state to begin issuing retail licenses for recreational-marijuana businesses starting Jan. 1.
Both the Colorado and Washington laws are in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits marijuana cultivation, sales and consumption for any reason.
In 2009, however, the Justice Department issued a memo allowing leeway for states to enact medical-marijuana laws approved by voters. Twenty states and the District of Columbia now have laws permitting medical-marijuana use.
Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, expressed frustration with the lack of federal action, saying that lawmakers need to “adopt an evidence-based approach for the 21st century.”
“By failing to recognize the decisions of voters and legislators in those states, current federal law is undermining their ability to implement and enforce those laws,” said Riffle in a statement. “Marijuana prohibition’s days are numbered, and everyone in Washington knows that. It’s time for Congress to stop ignoring the issue and develop a policy that allows states to adopt the most efficient and effective marijuana laws as possible.”
The Denver City Council voted Monday to place a proposed 3.5 percent sales marijuana sales tax before the voters on the Nov. 5 ballot. The tax is expected to raise about $3.4 million to be used for marijuana regulation.
With about 200 medical-marijuana shops, Denver is the largest city to opt in on establishing retail marijuana sales.
“The whole country is watching us,” said council president Mary Beth Susman in the Denver Post. “Come Jan. 1, we are going to have people from all over the country asking us how is it going? We have thought about what it will mean for the future and to be among the first to legalize marijuana in this fashion.”
More than 20 Colorado city councils have voted since November to ban marijuana sales within their borders, including Colorado Springs and Castle Rock.