Pubdate: Thu, 31 Jul 2014
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2014 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Washington Bureau
Page: 6A


Washington, Colorado Senators Claim Feds Send Conflicting Signals

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 and Colorado entered the fray 
Tuesday, releasing a letter sent Monday to White House chief of staff 
Denis McDonough and Attorney General Eric Holder that complained 
federal agencies "have taken different approaches that seem to be at 
odds with one another."

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

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.

The White House is getting an earful on the subject this week after 
The New York Times called Sunday for ending the national prohibition 
of marijuana.

While the senators want the federal government to back their states 
in taxing and selling marijuana to users over 21, opponents of 
legalization say President Barack Obama isn't doing enough to enforce 
federal laws that prohibit the drug. They want him to convene a 
summit 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 is a co-founder of the anti-legalization group Smart 
Approaches to Marijuana.

Washington and Colorado opened pot stores this year after voters 
there legalized marijuana in 2012. Colorado went first, in January, 
followed by Washington in July. While the Justice Department said 
last August that it would allow the states to proceed, the White 
House said Monday 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 the Department of Justice has established 
"some guidelines for administering the law in the unique 
circumstances that exist in Colorado and Washington state."

On Monday, 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, 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 driving dangerous.

In their letter, the senators urged the White House to "assume a 
central and coordinating role" and to provide "uniform guidance" to 
all federal agencies.

"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 the letter.

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.

Backing Kennedy's call for a summit, Dr. Stuart Gitlow, president of 
the American Society of Addiction Medicine, said lawmakers and the 
media were sending a message that marijuana use came with few 
negative consequences.

Obama, who has acknowledged smoking marijuana while growing up in 
Hawaii, made headlines this year when he said he thought that using 
marijuana was less harmful than consuming alcohol. In December 2012, 
just a month after the legalization votes in Washington state and 
Colorado, he said he had "bigger fish to fry" than to worry about 
recreational pot smoking in the states.

But Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana 
Policy Project, said it was clear that Obama "still has some evolving 
to do when it comes to marijuana policy."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom