It has been seven and a half months since residents of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana, and so far the Obama administration has not responded in any substantive way, although Attorney General Eric Holder keeps promising a policy statement "soon." Yesterday the U.S. Conference of Mayors, meeting in Las Vegas, weighed in on the side of federalism, unanimously endorsing a resolution declaring that "states and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana policies work best to improve the public safety and health of their communities." Accordingly, the mayors say "federal laws, including the Controlled Substance Act, should be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana policies without federal interference." Until that can be accomplished, the mayors urge President Obama to "reexamine the priorities of federal agencies to prevent the expenditure of resources on actions that undermine the duly enacted marijuana laws of states." The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013, introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) in April, would take the decision away from Obama administration by barring federal prosecution of people who grow, possess, transport, or sell marijuana in compliance with state laws.
The mayors' resolution also directly criticizes marijuana prohibition as "costly and ineffective," saying it enriches violent criminals, results in racially disproportionate arrests, and diverts resources from "programs that more effectively serve the public and keep our cities safe from serious and violent crime." It suggests that decriminalization can allow states to "more effectively and responsibly control marijuana use and sales among adults in their jurisdictions in a way that reduces costs and crime and improves public health and safety." And it notes that polls indicate most Americans, including opponents of legalization, believe the federal government should not try to stop states from making that policy choice. In a similar expression of deference to state voters' choices, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who opposed Washington's legalization initiative in November, last week joined other members of her state's congressional delegation in signing a letter urging Holder to leave state-legal marijuana businesses unmolested.