More goodness from the confirmation hearings of Loretta Lynch yesterday. Assuming she manages to be confirmed (still likely, but not definite at this point) there will probably be some testy conversations between the AG office and the White House on the subject of marijuana laws. The President’s own history on the subject (cough… Choom Gang … cough) has perhaps informed his views, but they are not shared by his nominee for Attorney General.
During her hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) asked, “Do you support the legalization of marijuana?”
“Senator, I do not,” Lynch replied…
When Sessions asked Lynch if she agreed with Obama’s remarks about his marijuana use, she appeared to take a harder line than the president.
“I certainly don’t hold that view and don’t agree with that view of marijuana as a substance,” Lynch said. “I think the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion, neither of which I’m able to share. But I can tell you that not only do I not support legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support legalization, nor would it be the position if I were confirmed as attorney general.”
This is a perennial tug of war in the battle between states’ rights and the feds, and it’s one of only a few law enforcement subjects where it happens to this degree. There is no debate as to whether murder, assault, robbery or rape are crimes. Different states classify specific instances differently and punishments can vary, but everyone – including the federal government – is pretty much on the same page as to the need to prosecute them. But drug laws can and do vary wildly. When it comes to pot, we now have states which have completely legalized it, some which approve medical marijuana and others which treat possession as little more than a parking ticket.
How the Department of Justice handles this is a reflection of the attitudes of the President and the Attorney General he appoints. Even if your state legalizes pot, it is ostensibly still the choice of the feds as to whether or not they come busting in and bring federal charges against you anyway. This seems to be where Lynch and Obama view things differently.
Earlier in the afternoon, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Lynch if she considered the DOJ’s guidance “good policy.”
Lynch didn’t directly answer, but said that the DOJ’s guidance still allows federal prosecutors to go after marijuana cases that involve at-risk children, driving under the influence of the drug or marijuana crossing state lines — especially when it’s going from a state where marijuana is legal into a state where it isn’t. She also said the DOJ is looking at the availability of edible products “and the risk of those products falling into the hands of children and causing great harm there.”
When asked what advice she might give to officials in a state that’s considering the legalization of marijuana, Lynch simply said she’d refer them to current DOJ policy on narcotics, and that she’d tell them federal laws would be enforced.
As with most things, I think the decisions made by the voters of the individual states should hold sway. If things go to hell in a handbasket they can always change the laws back later on. But Lynch makes a good point when she notes that what happens in Colorado doesn’t always stay in Colorado, and neighboring states may need and request help from Washington. So, does Lynch pretty much have to just choke that impulse down if she is confirmed, or does she buck the White House and begin issuing directives in keeping with her previously held positions? I wouldn’t bet on the latter. It sounds to me as if she’s looking for some daylight between her and Obama where she can tell the Senators that she won’t just be a mouthpiece for him. But I’m sure she also knows that she won’t be in the job very long if she pushes back on the boss too hard.