The two oldest members of the U.S. Senate convened a four-witness hearing Tuesday to discuss concerns about marijuana legalization, but chose not to invite anyone supportive of the policy or with direct experience administering recreational pot laws in Western states.
Drug reform advocates denounced the hearing as a poorly informed waste of time, and senators most supportive of reforming federal marijuana laws did not attend.
Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called the hearing of the Caucus on International Narcotics Control last month after a Government Accountability Office report said the Justice Department wasn’t documenting its monitoring of enforcement guidelines laid out by the Obama administration in 2013.
The guidelines were contained in a memo allowing for the first state-regulated recreational pot markets in Colorado and Washington, despite marijuana possession remaining a federal crime. There are eight enforcement triggers in the guidelines that could prompt federal intervention, including the distribution of marijuana to minors, negative health consequences or the smuggling of marijuana across state lines.
Opponents of marijuana legalization believe a closer look at Colorado and Washington could reveal that federal intervention is warranted. And the Justice Department, should it seek to shut down state-regulated pot markets, likely would have a better case than neighboring states, anti-pot sheriffs and anti-drug groups – all of whom have lost in court.
But supporters of marijuana legalization say the sky hasn’t fallen and were enraged that Grassley and Feinstein, each 82 years old and leaders of what’s informally called the drug caucus, opted not to include anyone on their panel who would say so.
Polls generally show majority support for marijuana legalization among Americans, with support higher among young adults and lower among senior citizens.
“The outcome of the hearing has been predetermined: This is going to be a prohibitionist party, not a substantive hearing,” Michael Collins, a deputy director with the Drug Policy Alliance, said before the event. “It’s a waste of time, a waste of taxpayer dollars.” The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access denounced the gathering as “yet another lopsided hearing against medical cannabis.”
Though no Colorado or Washington state official was invited to speak about compliance with the enforcement guidelines, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson was asked to share his view of their work. Peterson, a Republican, unsuccessfully asked the Supreme Court to end state-regulated recreational marijuana sales in Colorado.
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