Attorney General Eric Holder was grilled on Capitol Hill today by Republicans upset the Administration is allowing legalization to proceed in Washington and Colorado and by Democrats upset he has passed the buck to Congress on marijuana rescheduling. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee blasted Holder’s recent statement that the Obama Administration would work with Congress to reschedule, noting that the Controlled Substances Act allows the Administration to reschedule without Congress. “There’s no way that marijuana should be Schedule I, because it’s not the same class as heroin and LSD as it is in the code,” said Rep. Cohen, adding, “I predict Congress will not act in this area. Why will you not act on the president’s suggestion [that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol]?” Holder said the Administration would not unilaterally act and regarding marijuana’s Schedule I status, “What’s obvious to one … might not be obvious to another.” In response to Republicans who cry that federal prohibition trumps state legalization, Holder said it was “an interesting question” as to whether the Administration could force Washington and Colorado to criminalize marijuana. Numerous court precedents regarding the Tenth Amendment have held that the federal government cannot force states to uphold federal laws.
While Maryland’s governor Martin O’Malley says he will sign the state’s decriminalization bill, he still sees adult marijuana use as dangerous. “As a young prosecutor, I once thought that decriminalizing the possession of marijuana might undermine the public will necessary to combat drug violence and improve public safety,” O’Malley said in a statement. “I now think that decriminalizing possession of marijuana is an acknowledgment of the low priority that our courts, our prosecutors, our police, and the vast majority of citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health.” One key fact that helped to pass the bill in the legislature was the fact that this so-called “transgression of public order and public health” was being punished far more often in African-American communities. Perhaps Gov. O’Malley is just more focused on protecting order and health for black people or maybe he thinks white people aren’t as affected by marijuana transgressions.
Maryland’s General Assembly is also moving to make the state the 21st whole-plant medical marijuana state. The House and the Senate by votes of 125-11 and 44-2 voted to approve compromises between their versions of a medical marijuana law. Under the compromise, the state would appoint fifteen growers of medical marijuana that would be distributed through licensed dispensaries, which the growers could choose to operate or to merely supply. Growers would have a two-year license and the state would reevaluate the number of growers allowed in that time. Dispensaries would be distributed throughout the state but limited in number so no one area has a large concentration of them. Patients would register with the state and get a medical marijuana card to entitle them to shop at dispensaries. This bill finally moves Maryland from its current unworkable research-program-only medical marijuana law to a system that will actually benefit patients.
Statistics for the first quarter of 2014 show that violent crime and property crime are both lower in the city of Denver than the first quarter of 2013. Prior to the legalization vote in 2012, Douglas County Sheriff David Weaver warned, “Expect more crime, more kids using marijuana, and pot for sale everywhere.” A California sheriff appeared on Denver TV saying, “thugs put on masks, they come to your house, they kick in your door. They point guns at you and say, ‘Give me your marijuana, give me your money.'” Denver DA Mitch Morrissey explained, “We have had 12 homicides related directly to medical marijuana… people are targeting and turning these folks into victims because there is large qualities of cash there.” Since legal marijuana sales begun, violent crime is down 2.4% and property crime is down 12.1%.
Medical marijuana proponents in Minnesota were excited for a possible backdoor way to pass their bill, but it has now been delayed for at least two weeks. Rep. Pat Garofalo has placed virtually the entire text of HF 1818, the whole-plant medical marijuana bill, as an amendment to a health bill. But today, the Speaker of the House tabled discussion of that bill until after the Easter recess. Gov. Mark Dayton has threatened to veto HF 1818, drawing proponents to place a TV ad criticizing the governor for ignoring the needs of sick and disabled Minnesotans. Gov. Dayton has not threatened the amended health bill with a veto, but says legislators “have hidden behind their desks” by not compromising on the concerns he shares with law enforcement over medical marijuana.