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Bill aims to ease federal-state clash over marijuana laws

- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2013

A U.S. House lawmaker has introduced a bill to end the conflict between the federal government and the states over legalized pot, five months after Colorado and Washington voters approved the first statewide ballot measures decriminalizing marijuana use for adults.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, said the "Respect State Marijuana Laws Act" would end the limbo that finds Colorado and Washington lawmakers moving forward with pot regulations even as the Obama administration Justice Department weighs continuing to enforce federal laws against marijuana in those states.

"This bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states' marijuana laws," Mr. Rohrabacher said in a statement Friday. "It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don't want it to be criminal."

But Kevin Sabet, a former adviser in the White House Office of National Drug Policy during both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, said the bill, like previous marijuana-legalization bills, is "bound to fail."

"And it probably should. Since users who consume small amounts of marijuana are rarely, if ever, noticed by federal authorities, this provision would have little real-world effect," Mr. Sabet, president of Policy Solutions Group, said in an email. "It would, however, represent something of a symbolic victory toward repealing all of our marijuana laws."

The federal Controlled Substances Act bans the production, sale and use of marijuana, but in 2009, the Justice Department issued a memo saying it would give leeway to states where voters have approved marijuana for medicinal uses.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has yet to say whether he will let Colorado and Washington proceed with legalizing recreational marijuana. In March, he told a Senate committee that the Justice Department would issue a guidance "relatively soon."

The House bill, introduced with both Democratic and Republican co-sponsors, would amend the federal act to protect from prosecution marijuana smokers, as well as medical and nonmedical marijuana businesses, in states that have legalized pot.

"Marijuana prohibition is on its last legs because most Americans no longer support it," said Steve Fox, national political director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "This legislation presents a perfect opportunity for members to embrace the notion that states should be able to devise systems for regulating marijuana without their citizens having to worry about breaking federal law."

In a March letter, nine former Drug Enforcement Administration chiefs and four former drug czars urged the Justice Department to remain firm on enforcing federal drug laws in Colorado and Washington.

Voters in Colorado and Washington approved ballot measures in November permitting recreational use of marijuana for those 21 and older, and directing state legislatures to devise regulatory frameworks similar to those governing liquor sales and distribution.

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