Washington and Colorado became the first two states this election season to pass laws legalizing and regulating the use of recreational marijuana. It was a historic victory for progressives who believe that the War on Drugs failed miserably. Marijuana prosecutions have disproportionately affected African-Americans and public opinion in general is moving to support legalization.
Now, members of Congress are asking the Federal government to respect voters’ wishes. According to the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, the laws of the United States are the “supreme law of the land…anything in the constitutions or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” What this means is that although the states themselves have legalized marijuana use, Federal drug prohibitions still apply and preëmpt any state measure attempting legalization.
This week, members of the House of Representatives from a variety of states are have sent a letter to Federal officials asking that the state laws be allowed to stand. Eighteen members of Congress have asked the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Agency not to take action against any individuals in compliance with their state’s laws. Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver, Colorado, has even introduced legislation, named the ”Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act,” aiming to exempt states with marijuana legalization laws from the Federal prohibition.
The letter, addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder and DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, asks federal officials to let states be “laboratories of democracy”, where the constituents have clearly spoken:
“The people of Colorado and Washington have decided that marijuana ought to be regulated like alcohol, with strong and efficient regulation of production, retail sales and distribution, coupled with strict laws against underage use and driving while intoxicated.”
The letter goes on to ask that the “departments take no action against anyone who acts in compliance with the laws of Colorado, Washington and any other states that choose to regulate marijuana for medicinal or personal use.”
In even stronger language, the representatives who signed the letter state they believe, “The voters of these states chose, by a substantial margin, to forge a new and effective policy with respect to marijuana. The tide of public opinion is changing both at the ballot box and in state legislatures across the country.”
The DOJ has only said thus far that their stance on marijuana prohibition would “remain unchanged.”