Pubdate: Mon, 02 Feb 2015
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: Valerie Richardson


Lynch Veering Away From the Obama No-Big-Deal Rhetoric

DENVER - Nobody in the Colorado marijuana industry is panicking, but 
those involved are sweating a little over the hard line taken by 
Loretta Lynch, President Obama's pick to be the next attorney 
general, on legalization during this week's Senate confirmation hearing.

"Quite a few of my members were expressing concern and nervousness," 
said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Colorado Marijuana 
Industry Group. "But I'm not sure we could have expected much more 
than we just heard. Even the president, who came out saying that 
marijuana is no more dangerous as alcohol, is also on the record as 
being against legalization."

States that have legalized or are considering legalizing recreational 
marijuana use butted heads continually with Attorney General Eric H. 
Holder Jr., who refused to relax stricter federal laws against pot 
use. Judging from this week's performance, the fight won't end when 
Mr. Holder leaves.

A federal prosecutor in New York, Ms. Lynch told the Senate Committee 
on the Judiciary she disagreed with the president's no-big-deal take 
on pot, saying, "I certainly don't hold that view and don't agree 
with that view of marijuana as a substance."

"I think the president was speaking from his personal experience and 
personal opinion, neither of which I'm able to share," Ms. Lynch 
said. "But I can tell you that not only do I not support the 
legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department 
of Justice currently to support the legalization. Nor would it be the 
position should I become confirmed as attorney general."

Her stance buoyed legalization foes such as Kevin Sabet, president of 
Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who said in a statement, "We are 
breathing a sigh of relief."

"For her to come out so adamantly against legalization is extremely 
encouraging," said Mr. Sabet, a former official in the White House 
drug czar's office. "It will give our efforts a shot in the arm."

Marijuana advocates downplayed her responses, pointing out that she 
was testifying before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary 
Committee and that its chairman, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, opposes 
recent state moves to legalize recreational marijuana.

In fact, the day before Wednesday's hearing, Mr. Grassley took to the 
Senate floor to condemn the Obama administration's decision to allow 
states that have legalized recreational pot for adults to proceed 
within certain parameters with regulated retail markets. Federal laws 
banning pot, he said, should trump state statutes.

Colorado and Washington launched retail marijuana markets last year, 
while voters in Alaska and Oregon passed ballot measures in November 
allowing recreational pot use and sales for adults 21 and over. The 
District of Columbia has approved adult pot use but not sales.

Mason Tvert, who led the successful 2012 ballot campaign in Colorado, 
argued that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and cracked, 
"Fortunately, [Ms. Lynch] has been nominated for attorney general, 
not surgeon general."

"We can only hope she was telling some lawmakers what they need to 
hear in order to get through the confirmation process," Mr. Tvert 
said in an email. "It would be shocking if she is actually unaware 
that marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol."

The Department of Justice issued a guidance in 2013 that essentially 
allows states to proceed with adult marijuana use and sales while 
warning that prosecutors would still enforce eight priorities, 
including keeping marijuana away from children and avoiding pot 
diversion to other states.

Tom Angell, who heads Marijuana Majority, said in an email that Ms. 
Lynch also appeared to indicate that she would follow the Justice 
Department guidance.

"While it'd be ideal to have an attorney general who agrees with the 
majority of Americans that it is time to end marijuana prohibition, 
we really don't need federal officials to personally support 
legalization," Mr. Angell. "We only need them to respect the will of 
voters who have implemented legalization in their own states."

"As long as they don't spend resources trying to overturn those duly 
enacted laws, I'm much less concerned about the personal views of 
Justice Department personnel," Mr. Angell said.

Any federal crackdown on retail marijuana would hit Colorado hardest. 
The state's recreational and medical marijuana businesses did an 
estimated $760 million in sales in 2014, and that number could hit $1 
billion this year, Mr. Elliott said.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense for that office to ignore drug 
cartels and organized criminal enterprises to go after these 
state-licensed businesses which are heavily controlled," Mr. Elliott 
said. "It's a waste of resources, particularly when this first year 
of legal marijuana sales has gone very well, with some exceptions. 
This is widely seen as a successful program."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom