Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A few notable thoughts/moments during Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on “Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.”

Sheriff-Urquhart-Dress-PortraitThough starting a few minutes late, this afternoon, on September 10, 2013, as detailed at this official webpage, there is a hearing before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary on “Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.”  All the written testimony is now posted on line, including the opening statement by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.   I hope to find time to read and comment on these written statements in the near future.

What has now prompted me to start "live-blogging" here for a little while is the openning statment by Senate Judiciary Committee member Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).   [It appears that StoptheDrugWar is doing some live-blogging of the hearing, too, at this link.]

Perhaps not too surprisingly, Senator Grassley's opening statement suggests he is none too pleased by the prospect of marijuana reforms, and he rattled off some statistics about what he claims were the failings of states with medical marijuana regimes.   But somewhat surprising, at least by my lights, was Senator Grassley's decision at the outset of his statement to make much of international laws against marijuana.   I was a bit surprised because I had recalled that Senator Grassley, as confirmed here on his website, was critical of Elana Kagan's suggestion should "would look to international law for 'good ideas' when interpreting the U.S. Constitution."

Also notable, getting now to the discussion between the few Judiciary Committee members present and Deputy AG James Cole, is that the first set of questions concern whether and how persons involved in state-legalized marijuana business might have access to banking services and other important commercial services subject to heavy federal regulation.

In Senator Grassley's questions for Deputy AG James Cole, the Senator raises the interesting idea of DOJ developing some metrics for measuring key federal priorities in the operation/impact of state marijuana regulatory schemes.  Every the nerdy academic, I love the idea of metrics here, but I am not holding my breathe that DOJ will be developing these kind of mertics for public discussion anytime soon.

The testimony by King County, Washington Sheriff John Urquhart, who is in full dress uniform (as pictured here), includes a potent assertion that his state is not "the Wild Wild West" and includes the plea to let state's try this regulatory approach free of undue federal imposition of complications.

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Doug --
I'll need to take a closer look at Grassley's comments (I've been teaching all afternoon), but I've seen international treaties invoked for at least two different purposes in the context of marijuana law reforms: 1) to suggest a constitutional means by which Congress could force the states to criminalize marijuana; the theory is that the anti-commandeering rule doesn't apply in the international law realm; and 2) to provide an additional argument against non-enforcement of the federal ban -- namely, that non-enforcement would damage our relations with other countries who are signatories to international treaties banning marijuana. I don't endorse either argument, but it's possible Grassley had one (or both) in mind.

Posted by: Rob Mikos | Sep 10, 2013 3:11:12 PM

The prohibition of marijuana is in fact an aberration. Before the last 76 years, it was essentially a non-issue given its legal status. The international community will reflect this understanding when the United States stops impeding the progress of marijuana reform in both the domestic and international arena. I will continue to watch the progress being made in Uruguay, where the legislature is expected to approve the full legalization of marijuana. While this will put the nation into direct conflict with international law, given the violence associated with the illegal drug trade and the absolute waste of public funds and corruption that exists in maintaining prohibition, I believe legalization will be better for that nation. The United States will surely state its opposition and marshal its UN staff into pressuring the larger assembly to subvert the marijuana policy of Uruguay citing international treaties. I suspect the nations of South and Central America will find solidarity in their push back against additional US meddling in their domestic affairs, especially since it is American consumption of drugs that fuels the violence and corruption within their nations.

Posted by: Wayne | Sep 11, 2013 4:17:06 AM

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