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Clashing State and Federal Marijuana Laws Up for Debate in Congress Next Month

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The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next month to examine clashing state and federal marijuana laws, Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced yesterday.

"It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal." Leahy wrote in a press release.

The Vermont Democrat, who has been seeking clarification on this issue since December, supports the states' right to proceed with their new policies. "I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government," he continued in his statement.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana last November.

These state marijuana laws conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act, which places marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance—in the same category as heroin and LSD—defined as having no medical use and high potential for abuse. Federal authorities have continued to raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they are legal, but have remained silent on Washington and Colorado.

"There is such a gray area in the law," NORML director Allen St. Pierre told U.S. News. "It's time somebody had a hearing. The Obama Administration has failed to address this issue at all."

Leahy called on Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to testify at the hearing.

Last December, Leahy wrote to the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, asking how the administration would proceed in light of differences between federal and state laws. "Legislative options exist to resolve the differences between federal and state law in this area and end the uncertainty that residents of Colorado and Washington now face," he wrote. "In order to give these options full consideration, the committee needs to understand how the administration intends to respond to the decision of the voters in Colorado and Washington."

The hearing is scheduled for September 10.

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