Pubdate: Wed, 30 Jul 2014
Source: Buffalo News (NY)
Copyright: 2014 The Buffalo News
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Newspapers
Page: A5


Lawmakers Press Obama on Stance

WASHINGTON - After nearly two years of sending conflicting signals on 
the legalization of marijuana, the Obama administration finds itself 
under increased pressure from all sides to deliver a consistent 
message on where it stands.

Democratic senators from Washington state and Colorado entered the 
fray Tuesday, releasing a letter that complained that federal 
agencies "have taken different approaches that seem to be at odds 
with one another."

The senators - Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell from Washington state 
and Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado - cited two decisions 
this year that have puzzled proponents and opponents alike.

In February the administration said it would advise U.S. attorneys 
not to prosecute banks that illegally allowed marijuana stores to 
open accounts and accept credit card payments. But in May, the Bureau 
of Reclamation said it wouldn't allow any federally controlled water 
to be used on marijuana crops because Congress had banned the drug.

While the senators want the federal government to back their states 
in taxing and selling marijuana to users over 21, legalization 
opponents say President Barack Obama isn't doing enough to enforce 
federal laws that prohibit the drug. They want him to convene a 
gathering of scientists and health care experts to put a spotlight on 
the issue.

"We can no longer accept a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil marijuana 
policy," said Patrick Kennedy, a former Democratic congressman from 
Rhode Island who's a co-founder of the anti-legalization group SAM 
(Smart Approaches to Marijuana). "Negative consequences are mounting."

Washington state and Colorado opened pot stores this year after 
voters there legalized marijuana in 2012. Colorado went first, in 
January, followed by Washington state earlier this month.

While the Justice Department said last August that it would allow the 
states to proceed, the White House said Monday that it remained 
opposed to national legalization.

"The administration's position on this issue has not changed," White 
House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.

Earnest said Tuesday that he hadn't seen the senators' letter, but he 
noted that the Department of Justice has established "some guidelines 
for administering the law in the unique circumstances that exist in 
Colorado and Washington state." He said he was unaware whether the 
administration was reviewing agency policies, and he referred 
reporters to the separate agencies involved for more details on how 
they would untangle further conflicts.

On Monday night, the National Drug Control Policy Office, headed by 
acting Director Michael Botticelli, responded to The New York Times' 
editorial, saying legalization "is not the silver bullet solution."

"In its argument, The New York Times editorial team failed to mention 
a cascade of public health problems associated with the increased 
availability of marijuana," the drug czar's office said in a 
statement, adding that "any discussion on the issue should be guided 
by science and evidence, not ideology and wishful thinking."

Among the health issues cited by the drug czar: Marijuana use is 
associated with cognitive impairment, hurts academic achievement, is 
addictive and affects reaction time, which can make it dangerous to drive.

In their letter, the senators said they understood the "legal 
complexity" surrounding marijuana issues but urged the White House to 
"assume a central and coordinating role" and to provide "uniform 
guidance" to all federal agencies and departments.

"Without such guidance, our states' citizens face uncertainty and 
risk the inconsistent application of federal law in Colorado and 
Washington state, including the potential for selective enforcement 
actions and prosecution," the senators said in a letter Monday to 
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Attorney General Eric Holder.

In his statement, Kennedy said administration officials were ignoring 
the marijuana issue, even though they had promised that the 
government "would be measuring and surveying the damage of legalization."

"So far there has been nothing," he said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom