Senate Marijuana Hearing: Proof That States, Feds Just Don't Agree

Political leaders are finally catching up with the public opinion on marijuana legislation. The wildly varied nature of federal and state legislation surrounding it has not only caused public confusion and complications surrounding business development and success, but also has caused people to consider the federal government indecisive, particularly in Colorado and Washington where recreational marijuana use has been legalized by the state but remains illegal on the federal level. With careful thought and consideration, the United States Department of Justice , U.S. Department of Treasury officials, and financial regulators have taken the reins in clarifying how to legally deal with banks and businesses that serve marijuana dispensaries, as well other farmers in the newly drug-legalized states.

Last Thursday, the Obama administration stated that the only requirement for medical or recreational use would be strict sale and distribution of the marijuana. This statement specifically addressed the concerns of congressmen like Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who announced that state regulation shave failed to keep marijuana from being abused. Colorado in particular has "become a significant exporter of marijuana," affirmed Grassley, who noted that marijuana is transported from states where it is legal to states where it remains illegal.

Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole shared in a memo to U.S. attorneys in all 50 states that while the drug should remain prohibited under federal law, the Department of Justice is "committed to using its limited investigative and prosecutable resources to address the most significant threats in the most effective, consistent, and rational way."

Rightfully so, Cole notes that state regulations must be "tough in practice, not just on paper [and thus] must include strong enforcement efforts, backed by adequate funding."

These various congressional statements come as a sigh of relief since marijuana law is so closely related to a range of socio-political issues. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) noted, "We must have a smarter approach to marijuana policy … The absolute criminalization of personal marijuana use has contributed to our nation's soaring prison population and has disproportionately affected people of color."

In response, Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Colorado helped the state adopt new rules on Monday. These include the correct application and licensing for retail stores, cultivation and manufacturing, testing requirements, inventory tracking, testing and product safety, labeling, and advertising. It even establishes steps to limit production to avoid illegal inter-state exports and increases penalties to those still breaking regulations by selling marijuana to minors while using state laws as a cover for drug trafficking.

Ultimately, federal and state marijuana legislation are equally valuable in ensuring the safety of users, regulations for youth, and decreasing criminal activity. Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann noted, "the Senate at last is acknowledging the remarkable shift in public opinion and state laws involving marijuana." Arguably, the federal government would make the most progress in its next round of policies by allowing banks to open checking, savings, or credit card accounts for marijuana businesses rather than have them run as cash-only dispensaries that are likely to be robbed and are difficult to audit for tax fraud and wage theft. One day soon, we may even see Congress address the pressing matter of the federal status and conflict surrounding marijuana as a banned drug.