Marijuana backers cool with AG nominee


Marijuana advocates say they aren’t nervous about Loretta Lynch’s personal pot politics, even after President Obama’s choice to serve as the nation’s top cop voiced strong opposition to the drug’s legalization this week.
“I not only do not support legalization, it’s not the position of the Department of Justice to support the legalization,” said Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, Wednesday at her confirmation hearing. 

{mosads}However, she said the administration’s directive of not targeting pot businesses in states where weed is legal “seeks to try and work with state systems that have chosen to take admittedly a different approach from the federal government.”
The latter statement was seen as good news for marijuana supporters.

“Nobody in our community is overly concerned,” said Michael Collins, policy manager the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports marijuana legalization. “She didn’t say anything that indicated a change in policy or that she’d interfere with states legalizing marijuana.

“We’re not worried that there’ll be changes in the policy of the administration,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports legalization.

However, advocates did criticize Lynch  — who is expected to be confirmed —  for disagreeing with Obama’s position that marijuana is not more dangerous than consuming alcohol, a position he asserted during a January 2014 interview with The New Yorker.

“I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” Obama told the magazine. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Lynch’s take: “I certainly don’t hold that view and don’t agree with that view of marijuana as a substance,” Lynch testified at her confirmation hearing, when asked to comment on Obama’s New Yorker quote.

Riffle called Lynch’s comments “disturbing.”

Erik Altieri, spokesman for the pro-legalization group National Organization of Marijuana Laws (NORML), called it “problematic” and “disheartening.”

“Comments like that only further the confusion for state regulators and financial institutions in states where marijuana is legal,” Altieri said. “Instead of adding further clarity — we’re still stuck in the mud and it emphasizes the absolute need for Congress to act on this through legislation.”

The Obama administration unveiled guidelines in February 2014 saying that it wouldn’t target businesses in states where the substance is legal, but Congress hasn’t removed marijuana from the federal Drug Schedule, a reference list of controlled substances.
Washington, D.C., Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Colorado have voted to legalize marijuana. Similar measures are expected to be on the ballot in several other states in 2016, including Maine, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and California.
Congress has attempted to block the District of Columbia from legalizing pot, even after voters passed a ballot initiative in November to legalize the drug. D.C. Council officials are still moving forward with legalization efforts and it’s unclear how the process will play out.

Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.), a member of the House Financial Services Committee, plans to reintroduce legislation with Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) that would prohibit the federal government from going after businesses that are engaged in the marijuana industry.

“Rep. Heck finds the DOJ guidelines are a helpful framework, but not enough clarity for some in the financial industry,” said Heck spokeswoman Kati Rutherford.

The guidance issued last year is just that: guidance — and [it] can be interpreted and enforced arbitrarily,” said Jenifer Waller, a senior vice president at the Colorado Bankers Association. Waller said the only thing that would provide banks with absolute certainty that they won’t be targeted for serving the marijuana industry would be an “act of Congress.”

Still, Collins points out, Lynch “said what she had to say in front of a Republican committee to get confirmed in a GOP-majority Senate.”

”We don’t think what she said will mean anything in terms of a change of policy,” Collins said.

Tags Denny Heck Eric Holder

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