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Attorney General Nominee: State Marijuana Laws Would Stand

| Jan 28, 2015 | News

Reposted from Cannabis Business Times

January 28, 2015 by Noelle Skodzinski

Attorney General Nominee: State Marijuana Laws Would Stand

In a highly anticipated confirmation hearing today before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch commented on marijuana policies and the jurisdiction of states choosing to legalize marijuana. Her remarks were not definitive, though her stance seemed to be aligned with current administration policies and the policy that was outlined in “the Cole memo,” which stated that it would not be a priority of the Department of Justice to prosecute anyone who is in compliance with state marijuana laws.

Lynch, who has served two terms as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, would be replacing outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, should she be approved.

While the overall message seems relatively favorable regarding current marijuana policy (and at least is not seen to be in contrast with current federal acceptance of state laws), Lynch’s remarks could be interpreted as a bit conflicting. When asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) whether federal law, under which marijuana is an illegal substance, would preempt states “who are trying to legalizing the substance,” Lynch’s response mentioned the “concurrent jurisdiction” of states—suggesting state’s rights would be upheld—but she also stressed the enforcement of the “money laundering aspect” of marijuana laws. The threat of money laundering has been a significant hurdle to banks offering services to legal marijuana businesses.

“I think you raise very important questions about the relation of the Federal criminal system with the states and their ability to regulate criminal law, which they also have, as there is concurrent jurisdiction, and in terms of matters of which citizens of various states have voted,” she said. “With respect to the marijuana enforcement laws, it is still the policy of the administration, and certainly it would be my policy, if confirmed as Attorney General, to continue to enforce the marijuana laws, particularly with respect to the money laundering aspect of it.”

Senator Graham also brought up what is referred to as the “Cole memo,” in which Deputy Attorney General James Cole advised U.S. attorneys that prosecuting those who are in compliance with state marijuana laws would not be a priority of the U.S. Department of Justice. When Graham asked Lynch if she believed that to be “a good policy,” she replied that she believes Cole’s policy “seeks to try and work with state systems that have chosen to take admittedly a different approach from the Federal government with respect to marijuana, and determine the most effective way to still pursue marijuana cases consistent with the states and the choices they have made.”

The policy, she said, “as I understood it, and it has been implemented, still requires federal prosecutors to seek prosecution of marijuana cases particularly where we have situations where children are at risk, where marijuana is crossing state lines, particularly where you have marijuana being trafficked from a state that has chosen a legal framework into a state that has not … as well as those who are driving under the influence of this.”

Lynch noted that of “great concern” within the department and those looking at these issues are the “availability of the edible products and the risk of those falling into the hands of children and causing great harm there.”

Graham asked what advice Lynch would give any state intending to legalize personal consumption “at a small level of marijuana.” Lynch said that while she didn’t expect any states would turn to the department for advice, the DOJ “would have an obligation to inform them of the current federal status of narcotics laws and the federal position that the federal narcotics laws will still be enforced by the Department of Justice.”

Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance told, “The federal government can’t stop states from legalizing marijuana, and it’s clearly better for the feds to work with the states instead of against them,” he said. “Lynch seems to not only understand this but also support it.”

Lynch’s interview with Senator Graham can be viewed here.

(Photo: Official White House photo by Pete Souza taken during President Obama’s announcement of Loretta Lynch as Attorney General nominee)