Murray, Cantwell ask DOJ to uphold existing policy on state marijuana laws


BOSTON, MA (AP) - Senators from eight states that have legalized the recreational or medicinal use of marijuana are asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to uphold the Department of Justice's existing enforcement policy toward states with voter-approved marijuana laws.

Massachusetts Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey were among those who signed the Thursday letter. Massachusetts voters backed the recreational use of pot last year.

The senators point to comments by White House spokesman Sean Spicer suggesting stepped-up enforcement of federal laws against recreational marijuana.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana.      

The Obama administration opted not intervene in state marijuana laws as long as states had systems to control the drug's cultivation and sale.

Senators from Oregon, Nevada, Hawaii, Washington, Colorado, New Jersey and Alaska also signed the letter.


WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) – Today, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, including Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressing concern that the Trump administration may begin enforcing federal law in states that have legalized marijuana. It asks the U.S. Department of Justice to clarify the Trump administration’s policy on law enforcement in states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

The letter was prompted by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s remarks during his briefing on February 23rd, suggesting that the public would soon see “greater enforcement” against any state that has legalized use of the drug. Federal law still outlaws the use of marijuana.

“It is essential that states that have implemented any type of practical, effective marijuana policy receive immediate assurance from the DOJ that it will respect the ability of states to enforce thoughtful, sensible drug policies in ways that do not threaten the public’s health and safety,” the senators wrote. “This ensures that state infrastructure, including tax revenue, small businesses, and jobs, can be protected; DOJ resources can be used most effectively; and most importantly, that marijuana can be properly regulated to improve public health and safety.”

The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which is still on the books, outlaws the possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana except for authorized research. However, guidance issued by the DOJ in 2013 by the Obama administration, known as the “Cole Memorandum,” provides a clear direction on the interaction of state and federal laws regarding marijuana use. According to the memorandum, enforcement of marijuana-related activities should be addressed primarily by state regulatory bodies and local law enforcement in states with “strong and effective regulatory systems” already in place. It is unclear whether the Trump administration will leave this guidance in place.

To date, eight states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing for the recreational use of marijuana, 28 states have medical marijuana laws, and 21 states have decriminalized the use of marijuana.

The letter was also signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

The full letter is below and available online here.

Recommended for you