"If the federal government doesn’t have to put its nose in the issue, we shouldn’t"

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a states’ rights advocate who doesn’t endorse smoking marijuana because of its health effects, said the atmosphere on the Hill is changing — slowly. “I think people overall don’t like the idea of teenagers and young men and women going to jail for mistakes,” Paul said in an interview. “But I don’t think people are ready yet to say, ‘Oh, it’s a great thing and we just need to legalize it.’”

Marijuana activists are getting the hint. They’re planning pot legalization ballot measures in Alaska and Oregon in 2014, with several more likely to follow in 2016. Dozens of state legislatures and city councils are considering decriminalization or legalization bills. New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Jan. 8 announced a pilot program for medical marijuana in his state.

Still, there’s little appetite for action at the federal level. The House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the nation’s drug laws say they are too busy with other priorities like government spying, immigration and patent reform. Lawmakers who handle the IRS and banking issues — two areas where questions persist amid the launch of the states’ lucrative marijuana market — have no immediate plans to dig in.

And aides to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took a pass when asked for comment about the legal toking under way with the new year in Colorado and, in a couple of months, Washington.