Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested to U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske in a letter released Thursday (PDF) that Congress may consider legalizing marijuana in the wake of Colorado and Washington voting in favor of regulating the drug similarly to alcohol.
But, Leahy wrote in the letter, he wants to know where the administration stands on the laws before the committee takes up the question.
“How does the Office of National Drug Control Policy intend to prioritize Federal resources, and what recommendations are you making to the Department of Justice and other federal agencies in light of the choice by citizens of Colorado and Washington to legalize personal use of small amounts of marijuana?” Leahy asked Kerlikowske.
“What assurance can and will the administration give to state officials involved in licensing of marijuana retailers that they will not face Federal criminal penalties for carrying out the duties assigned to them under state law?”
The answer, he suggested, may be that Congress must exercise one of its “legislative options,” like amending the law “to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law.”
“In order to give these options full consideration, the Committee needs to understand how the administration intends to respond to the decision of the voters in Colorado and Washington,” he concluded. “I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.”
Leahy’s letter also explained that he plans to hold Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the Obama administration’s marijuana strategy sometime next year.
It’s not clear yet what the Obama administration is going to do about two states flouting the federal prohibition of marijuana, but The New York Times said recently that the Justice Department is still reviewing its options. Apart from a guidance by the Department of Transportation reminding people that marijuana is still illegal, the federal government hasn’t said much else about it.