Attorney General Eric Holder received support from a wide swath of the political spectrum after announcing the Department of Justice’s new position on mandatory minimum drug sentencing Monday. But some sensed a lost opportunity for the federal government to clarify its relationship with the twenty states that have legalized medical marijuana, especially Colorado and Washington, where full adult legalization has been in place since voters passed ballot initiatives last November. Holder failed to address marijuana at all in his first major statement on drug policy since his March appearance at the Senate Judiciary committee, when he said that the Obama administration was "still considering" its response to the Washington and Colorado legalization.
"The attorney general missed an opportunity to address the single most pressing drug reform issue in the country, and that's reforming our cannabis laws," Steve DeAngelo, a marijuana advocate, said to The Huffington Post.
There are currently two bills in Congress addressing marijuana reform. H.R. 499—The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013—would do pretty much exactly what the title implies, remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. Since being introduced into the House in February. The bill was kicked around to no fewer than nine committees and subcommittees until it ended up in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, where it has floundered for the past six months.
The second bill, H.R. 1523—The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013—is less ambitious. The bill would amend the Controlled Substance Act to make it not apply to anyone “acting in compliance with state laws” relating to marijuana. Three of the bill’s 19 sponsors are Republican, lending a bipartisan edge to the legislation that similar bills have lacked. But prospects for the bill don’t look much more promising, it has has languished in the same committee as H.R. 499 since late April.
This year alone the Drug Enforcement Agency has raided medical marijuana dispensaries in California, Washington, and Michigan with SWAT teams and military style gear. A report released in June by Americans for Safe Access claims that the DEA has spent more than $200 million on medical marijuana raids since Barack Obama assumed the presidency.
California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, an opinion poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in April found for the first time that a majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana.