In the weeks since voters in Colorado and Washington legalized the sale and possession of marijuana, speculation has mounted over what the Obama administration will do in response.
Will the administration bend to the will of the electorate in these two states and allow a legal marijuana industry to set up shop, despite federal laws that still bar such trade? Or will Washington instead intervene and crack down?
This week, Attorney General Eric Holder suggested the suspense will soon end with an announcement of the administration’s position. One particular group has expressed annoyance that a new policy is forthcoming, given its exclusion from the deliberations: the marijuana industry.
"It seems like we should be working with the administration, instead of having them meet behind closed doors to determine how to undermine progress," said Steve Fox, director of public affairs for the National Cannabis Industry Association and the lead author of the Colorado legislation. "If they're talking about whether a state regulated industry is going to continue to function or be undermined by federal law they might want to talk to the people involved in that industry to understand how the industry works and what kind of safeguards are put upon it."
On Nov. 6 voters in Colorado and Washington passed proposals legalizing and taxing the sale and possession of marijuana, putting them in direct conflict with federal restrictions on the substance. Industry advocates have long expressed concern that federal authorities will continue to raid marijuana growing facilities and pot dispensaries despite state laws; now they're angry they haven't even been invited to provide input on the state of play.
Alison Holcomb, who spearheaded the campaign in Washington state, said that she, like Fox, had heard nothing from the administration.
"Here in Washington we've been reaching out to our state-elected officials but also to members of our congressional delegation to try to have conversations with them in the hopes that constructive conversations can be carried forward to the administration by those people representing the state in Washington D.C.," Holcomb told HuffPost. "I do think it would be important for people to be talking to the people on the ground in the states," she added. "Otherwise I think there's a missed opportunity to hear about the policy considerations that went into the crafting of the initiatives."
While administration officials have reportedly been considering how to proceed, few specifics about their considerations have come out.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wrote a letter on Thursday to Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, requesting information about how the federal government intends to deal with states like Colorado and Washington that have recently legalized marijuana possession.
"How does the Office of National Drug Control Policy intend to prioritize Federal resources and what recommendations are you making to the Department of Justice and other agencies in light of the choice by citizens of Colorado and Washington to legalize personal use of small amounts of marijuana?" Leahy wrote in his letter. "What assurances can and will the administration give to state officials involved in the licensing of marijuana retailers that they will not face Federal criminal penalties for carrying out duties assigned to them under state law?"
Under federal law, marijuana is considered a schedule I prohibited substance, defined as having “a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment.” Heroin and LSD are classified alongside marijuana as schedule I, while cocaine, opium and methamphetamine are classified as schedule II, meaning they have "some accepted medical use."
While the administration has had some preliminary discussions with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), industry insiders note he's certainly not an advocate of the initiative and actually came out against it during the campaign.
Representatives at the Department of Justice did not immediately provide comment but said they will respond with details about federal drug policy.
"Fifty-five percent of citizens who voted for this essentially have been ignored by the Obama administration," Fox said. "We feel like a rational conversation about the best way to regulate the industry is better than a close-minded conversation about how they could shut it down before it ever starts."
This is a developing story and will be updated.