Colorado and Washington say it’s okay to use marijuana, the U.S. Congress says it isn’t. Federalism or criminalizing weed: Let’s settle now on one as a core GOP principle and let go of the other, because as marijuana legalization becomes more popular, one of them will have to give.
“I don’t see the DOJ suing these states for passing laws that are illegal under federal law,” said Rep. Andrew Harris (R-MD.). “I don’t see the administration going to the state of Washington or Colorado and saying, ‘We will see you in federal court because the federal law preempts the state law and you have passed a law in clear contradiction to federal law.'”
Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) echoed Harris during today’s appropriations hearing with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart (you can read her full remarks here). The exchange marks the first time members of Congress have openly called for the Obama administration to intervene in Colorado and Washington. Until today, the only members of Congress who had addressed marijuana legalization did so while introducing legislation that would repeal federal marijuana prohibition and create a federal tax-and-regulate framework…
“People say, ‘What happened? What’s changed since November? And I say, ‘Nothing,'” Leonhart told Harris. “We’re still enforcing federal law.” The real problem, she said, is that with only 45 DEA agents in each state, the DEA is heavily reliant on cooperation from local law enforcement groups. and those groups have been told by voters that they need to focus on serious crimes.
This already has the makings of a minor schism in the caucus. While Harris, Wolf, and Bonner were pushing Leonhart to crack down, three more Republicans were preparing to introduce a bill that would force the DEA to back off:
Whispers hears that Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., is about to introduce a bill that protects marijuana users and business owners from federal prosecution, as long as they are in compliance with state laws. The bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act, which makes the sale and use of marijuana illegal under federal law.
The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act has five co-sponsors on both the Republican and Democratic side of the aisle, including Reps. Justin Amash, R-Mich., Don Young, R-Alaska, Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Jared Polis, D-Col…
In a statement shared with Whispers, Rohrabacher called the bill “common sense” and said it “[keeps] the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities.”
I thought the big intraparty squabble of the next three years would be over gay marriage, but if you’ve got Republicans already sponsoring legislation that would effectively stop other Republicans from leaning on the DEA, maybe I’m wrong. Two recent poll results to inform your thinking on this. First, from December, Gallup:
And, from last week, Pew:
Pew’s results are especially significant because they show there’s no partisan split when it comes to enforcement of federal drug laws against pro-pot states. The GOP’s federalists should win this battle in Congress, then, if only because being anti-pot but pro-states’ rights is a nifty way to try to balance older voters that the party needs to hold and younger voters that the party needs to win. But who knows? If this becomes another cause for social conservatives who are already irritated by the GOP’s softening on gay marriage, maybe the pro-pot faction will run away.