Pubdate: Wed, 05 Mar 2014
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News, The (VI)
Copyright: 2014 The Associated Press
Author: Alicia A. Caldwell, The Associated Press


WASHINGTON (AP) - A senior U.S. drug enforcement official urged 
Congress and others Tuesday not to abandon scientific concerns over 
marijuana in favor of public opinion to legalize it, even as the 
Obama administration takes a hands-off approach in states where 
voters have made legal its sale and use.

The deputy administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration, 
Thomas Harrigan, testified Tuesday before a House oversight panel 
that easing laws governing marijuana threatens U.S. institutions.

"We should not abandon science and fact in favor of public opinion," 
Harrigan said. He echoed previous testimony from James Capra, DEA's 
chief of operations, who told a Senate panel in January that "going 
down the path to legalization in this country is reckless and irresponsible."

The subcommittee chairman, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said the country 
is "in a state of conflict and chaos right now" over U.S. marijuana policy.

In an election year that could tip the balance of power in Congress, 
some Republicans have accused the White House of cherrypicking which 
federal laws to enforce. The administration has said it continues to 
pursue dangerous criminals, but Obama himself last month in an 
interview declared marijuana no more dangerous than alcohol and 
contrasted it with "harder drugs" including cocaine and methamphetamine.

Federal law is unambiguous: Marijuana is among the most dangerous 
drugs, it has no medicinal value and it's illegal in the United 
States. It's a stance supported generally by the president's Office 
of National Drug Control Policy.

But the Justice Department has made clear it won't interfere with 
businesses in states where marijuana's sale or use has been made 
legal so long as everyone adheres to state law and the industry is 
taxed and regulated. The Treasury and Justice departments last month 
announced formal guidance for banks, though the financial industry 
has suggested that banks will remain wary of opening accounts for 
marijuana businesses.

Harrigan, the deputy DEA administrator, stopped short Tuesday of 
criticizing the administration's enforcement policies. He said the 
Justice Department memo issued last year by Deputy Attorney General 
James Coles has had little impact on his agency's operations 
targeting large-scale drug trafficking organizations. He said law 
enforcement remains concerned about international drug organizations 
exploiting state drug laws that are more lax than the federal government.

The U. S. Attorney in Colorado, John Walsh, said his office has never 
targeted casual drug users for federal prosecutions and the Cole memo 
has had no impact on that.

Harrigan also told the panel that DEA's foreign counterparts have 
questioned why the U.S. appears to be easing its overall oversight of 
marijuana laws.

Hours before Tuesday's congressional hearing, the United Nations' 
drug watchdog agency said it "deeply regrets" moves by Colorado and 
Washington state to allow the sale and use of marijuana. The agency, 
the International Narcotics Control Board, said such legalization 
posed a threat to the international fight against drug abuse.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom