Republican Congressmen Call on Obama to Stop Legal Pot in Colorado and Washington

The fight over legal marijuana finally comes to D.C.


hbimedialibrary / photo on flickr

Three Republican House members called today for President Obama and the Department of Justice to stop Washington state and Colorado from implementing tax-and-regulate schemes for marijuana, which voters approved in November.

"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.

Harris led the anti-pot charge, arguing that the Obama administration's failure to prosecute marijuana offenders–a claim contradicted by Obama's record of cracking down on more medical marijuana dispensaries than Bush ever did–was leading teenagers to experiment with harder drugs. 

"We have watched states preempt federal government on marijuana. We have decided not to change that at the federal law, and we to not enforce federal law on marijuana. You know as well as I do why these pill parties are happening. They're getting these pills out of their parents' medicine cabinets. What are their parents going to say, These are medicine for me, but bad for you?"

Leonhart denied that her agency had been called off. 

"My agents are still out in those two states enforcing federal law," Leonhart said in response to a claim from Harris that the Obama administration had decided "to not enforce federal law on marijuana."

"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. 

Wolf, who anticipates that legalization amendments will be tacked on to the appropriations bill, asked Leonhart what she would say to parents, legislators, and governors who were perhaps considering supporting marijuana legalization. "You can tell them the latest study says a marijuana user who starts at 13 and smokes into their 20s experiences an 8 percent drop in IQ," Leonhart said, blatantly misquoting a single recent study that alleges an 8 point drop.

"Is it a gateway drug? Is there a connection?" Wolf asked.

"There is absolutely a connection," Leonhart said.

At that point, a visibly shocked Wolf said, "I think the Dr. Harris is right. I think the Attorney General is really going to have to speak out on this. He cannot pull a Pontius Pilate, and wash his hands."

"It may require the president of the united states to speak out," Wolf added. "He's a good family man. He has a wonderful family. This has been a fascinating hearing. It really may require the president to address the nation. He has tremendous moral authority."

Wolf then announced his plans to introduce a prison reform bill, named after Watergate burglar-turned-prison minister Chuck Colson, that would require every incarcerated drug offender to attend drug treatment, as well as require every inmate to work.

Work gives them "dignity," Wolf said, before suggesting that making license plates, or–better yet–DEA uniforms, would provide inmates with valuable skills for reentry.

Note: I was transcribing as the hearing happened. Quotes may not be perfect.