Attorney General Eric Holder
On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his intent to craft regulations that would allow banking services for legitimate marijuana businesses throughout the country. Banks and credit card companies have been wary of working with marijuana businesses for fear of federal prosecution and loss of licensing, causing serious issues with public safety and hampering the growth of the industry. Advocates are hopeful that this statement directly from Holder, proposing regulations instead of guidance memos, signals a growing tolerance of marijuana policy reform among the states.
MPP’s Dan Riffle discussed the issues facing marijuana businesses on Marketplace on NPR this morning.
The US has been the major proponent for the international war on drugs, yet Eric Holder resisted pressure from the UN to sue Washington and Colorado over regulating marijuana last March. Now, a rough draft of a document detailing the United Nation’s future plans for combating illicit drug use has been leaked and reported by the Guardian.
The document, still a rough draft, is meant to ultimately form the UN’s statement on drug policy to be released in the Spring. The draft shows some difference of opinion, particularly among South American countries. According to the document, many countries are ready to end the United States-led plan of prohibition and focus on rehabilitation and treatment for drug users. Columbia, Guatemala, and Mexico have argued that prohibition allows the market to be controlled by dangerous cartels, while Venezuela is calling for a discussion of the economic implications of current drug policy. The European Union also indicated that the final document should include treatment as an alternative to incarceration for drug dependent offenders.
Support for a policy shift from incarceration to treatment has been growing steadily over the years according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, which cites statements from international leaders and a 2002 committee for the European Parliament, among other indicators. Apparently, the now clear difference in opinion is anything but new.
“The idea that there is a global consensus on drugs policy is fake,” said Damon Barrett, deputy director of the charity Harm Reduction International. “The differences have been there for a long time, but you rarely get to see them. It all gets whittled down to the lowest common denominator, when all you see is agreement. But it’s interesting to see now what they are arguing about.”
Click here to read more about international marijuana policies.
Attorney General Eric Holder
In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ would avoid prosecuting low-level, non-violent drug offenders with harsh charges that carry mandatory minimums.
Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.
Now, the DOJ has taken another step and announced that the new policy will also apply to persons who have been charged but not yet tried and persons who have been tried but not yet sentenced. The attorney general instructed his prosecutors to re-file charges in these cases so that low-level offenders will not be subjected to disproportionate sentences.
I am pleased to announce today that the department has issued new guidance to apply our updated charging policy not only to new matters, but also to pending cases where the defendant was charged before the policy was issued but is still awaiting adjudication of guilt.
This announcement comes in the wake of a statement by the DOJ last month that the federal government would allow states to continue with their plans to regulate and tax marijuana without interruption, so long as they meet certain criteria.
At a press briefing Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it will allow Colorado and Washington to move forward with implementation of laws establishing state-regulated systems of marijuana production and distribution.
“Today’s announcement is a major and historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition,” said MPP director of federal policy Dan Riffle. “The Department of Justice’s decision to allow implementation of the laws in Colorado and Washington is a clear signal that states are free to determine their own policies with respect to marijuana.
“We applaud the Department of Justice and other federal agencies for its thoughtful approach and sensible decision. It is time for the federal government to start working with state officials to develop enforcement policies that respect state voters, as well as federal interests. The next step is for Congress to act. We need to fix our nation’s broken marijuana laws and not just continue to work around them.”
Dep. Attn. Gen. James Cole
While the memo reiterates that marijuana use and distribution are still in violation of federal law, it lays out the priorities for the Department of Justice in states where marijuana policy differs from federal law:
- the distribution of marijuana to minors;
- revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
- the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
- state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
- violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana
- drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
- growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands;
- preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
After the last memo issued by Cole regarding state medical marijuana law and federal enforcement, states with very clear policies in place to control and regulate marijuana distribution saw little or no interference. This latest memo seems to echo that position in the cases of Washington and Colorado for adult use, so hopefully we can expect the Department of Justice to continue this trend moving forward.
UPDATE: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will testify at the hearing.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced Monday that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on “Conflicts Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.” Sen. Leahy has reportedly invited U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to speak to the committee.
The hearing is scheduled for September 10 at 10 a.m. ET in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building.
Sen. Leahy has said he believes state laws making marijuana legal for adult or medical use “should be respected.”
MPP’s director of government relations Dan Riffle had this to say:
“Two states have made marijuana legal for adult use and are establishing regulated systems of production and distribution. Twenty states plus our nation’s capital have made it legal for medical use. By failing to recognize the decisions of voters and legislators in those states, current federal law is undermining their ability to implement and enforce those laws.
“Marijuana prohibition’s days are numbered, and everyone in Washington knows that. It’s time for Congress to stop ignoring the issue and develop a policy that allows states to adopt the most efficient and effective marijuana laws possible. We need to put the ‘reefer madness’ policies of the 1930s behind us and adopt an evidence-based approach for the 21st century.”
This could be a really big deal. We’ll keep you posted.