Blurred lines between federal, state marijuana laws to be addressed

Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on conflict between laws; Attorney General Eric Holder invited to testify

A marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman wants federal assurances that state officials won't face criminal penalties for licensing marijuana retailers.
David McNew/Getty Images

The Senate Judiciary Committee will address the gray area between state and federal marijuana laws in a Sept. 10 hearing with Attorney General Eric Holder invited to testify, the committee’s chairman said Monday. The announcement comes almost six months after Holder said a federal answer on the awkward issue would come "relatively soon."

Marijuana was legalized for recreational use under state law in Washington and Colorado in November 2012. But on the federal level it remains illegal as a Schedule I controlled substance.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he hopes to obtain assurance from the administration that state officials responsible for licensing marijuana retailers will not face criminal penalties.

"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," Leahy said in a news release.

"I believe that state laws should be respected," he said. "At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government."

Marijuana has been legalized for medical use in 20 states and the District of Columbia, yet some licensed dispensaries faced federal raids in the past -- making potential retailers in Washington and Colorado uneasy.

On July 24, federal agents raided several dispensaries in the Puget Sound area of Washington state.

Colorado's Amendment 64 allows people 21 or older to possess up to 28 grams of marijuana, although public use is barred. It also allows people to grow up to six marijuana plants.

Washington Initiative 502 orders the establishment of a system of state-licensed marijuana growers, processors and retail stores, with adults 21 or older allowed to buy up to 28 grams. It also creates standards for driving under the influence.

Al Jazeera  

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