Several members of the US House of Representatives [official website] sent a letter [text, PDF] to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday urging the federal government to respect recently passed state legislation on marijuana use. The representatives asked the DOJ and its subdivision, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) [official websites] to refrain from prosecuting individuals and businesses in Colorado and Washington for using small amounts of marijuana after both states legalized marijuana two weeks ago [JURIST report]. The letter, signed by seventeen members of Congress, urges Attorney General Eric Holder and DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart [official profiles] to recognize that voters in Washington and Colorado clearly indicated that they want marijuana decriminalized and that the federal government should not infringe upon the will of voters. The letter contends that Washington and Colorado's newly passed laws not only promote sound public policy, but also comport with the goals of federal drug laws:
[Washington and Colorado] have chosen to move from a drug policy that spends millions of dollars turning ordinary Americans into criminals toward one that will tightly regulate the use of marijuana while raising tax revenue to support cash-strapped state and local governments. We believe this approach embraces the goals of existing federal marijuana law: to stop international trafficking, deter domestic organized criminal organizations, stop violence associated with the drug trade and protect children.It is unclear to what extent the DOJ and DEA will enforce federal marijuana laws against individuals in states that have approved the use of marijuana.
Marijuana [JURIST news archive] was a hot-button issue in several states in the November 6 election. In Washington voters approved an initiative [Initiative 502, PDF] to allow the possession and distribution of marijuana through a state-licensing system of marijuana growers, processors and stores, where adults can buy up to an ounce. The Colorado initiative [Amendment 64, PDF] actually introduces an amendment to the state constitution, allowing adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce and to privately grow up to six plants, although public use will be banned. In Oregon the Cannabis Tax Act Initiative [Measure 80, PDF] failed by approximately 55-to-45 percent [Examiner.com report] of the vote. Medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts for the first time as over 60 percent of voters approved Question 3 [Petition 11-11, PDF], an indirect initiated statute that will allow marijuana use by patients [Harvard Crimson report] with "debilitating medical conditions" and create 35 medical marijuana dispensaries. Conversely, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act [Issue 5, PDF] was rejected by voters [AP report] in that state by approximately a 52-to-48 percent margin. The measure would have allowed doctors to issue a certificate to anyone with a "qualifying medical condition" to grow, process and use marijuana. Also on the ballot in Montana is a veto referendum regarding a 2011 revision [SB 423] of a 2004 law that established medical marijuana use in the state.