Senate panel will examine state, federal pot laws

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee said Monday he wants to look into the conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws.

Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said he had invited Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to talk to the committee about the issue on Sept. 10.

Two states, Washington and Colorado, have legalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Twenty others have approved use of medical marijuana and others have shifted to civil fines like traffic tickets for small-level possession.

The federal government still calls marijuana illegal in all instances. Leahy said he’d like to see the state laws respected, and wants clarity on how federal authorities will respond to marijuana sales and use in states where penalties have been reduced or eliminated.

“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 statement.

“I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government,” he added.

Leahy’s comments — and the hearing — were welcomed by groups favoring a relaxation of anti-marijuana laws.

“Marijuana prohibition’s days are numbered, and everyone in Washington knows that,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “It’s time for Congress to stop ignoring the issue and develop a policy that allows states to adopt the most efficient and effective marijuana laws as possible.”

A request for comment emailed to the Partnership At Drug-Free.Org, formerly known as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a group that has been critical of marijuana use, drew no immediate response.

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