Senate Panel Hearing on Conflict Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws Provides Some Clarification

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In a memorandum issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) less than two weeks ago, Deputy Attorney General James Cole outlined a list of 8 priorities the DOJ will enforce—regarding the two states, Washington and Colorado, who legalized the recreational use of cannabis last November.

To clarify the memo better, a historic Senate Judiciary Committee was held today.

Headed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the committee heard testimony from DAG James Cole, King County Sheriff John Urquhart, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s Chief Legal Counsel Jack Finlaw and the infamous Kevin Sabet—founder of Project Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM.

Other members on the committee included Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Topics discussed included advertisement and the targeting of youth, out-of-state trafficking, banking resolutions, and that congress needs to clarify the IRS’s role in legal medical marijuana and recreational marijuana enterprises.

“The absolute criminalization of personal marijuana use has contributed to our nation’s soaring prison population and has disproportionately affected people of color,” Chairman Leahy admitted.


General Cole, star of the hearing, asserted that the Justice Department will reserve its right to supremacy on the matter but as Leahy led with, “The Law is clear, of course, that the federal government can’t force states to criminalize a particular type of conduct or activity;” leaving the federal government to only be able to challenge the regulation aspect of Washington or Colorado’s new laws.

Deputy Attorney Cole agreed, “It would be a very challenging law suit to bring to preempt the states’ decriminalization law, we might have an easier time with their regulatory scheme but then what you have but then you’d have legalized marijuana and no enforcement mechanism within the state to try and regulate it and that’s probably not a good situation to have.”

“There are no perfect solutions here.”


Reassuring members of the committee, Sheriff John Urquhart and CO Governor’s Chief Counsel Jack Finlaw voiced their perspectives from their given states: Urquhart, Washington and Finlaw, Colorado.

“We all agree we don’t want our children using marijuana. We all agree we don’t want impaired drivers. We all agree we don’t want to continue enriching criminals.” Sheriff Urquhart sincerely explicated.

“What we have in Washington is not the wild, wild West.”