Fans Of Legal Marijuana Cheer But Opponents Speak Out Before Historic Senate Hearing On Pot

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: The pros and cons of marijuna will take center stage Tuesday in Washington, D.C., when the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a landmark hearing on legalization.

Requested by committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the hearing was triggered by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement last month that federal authorities no longer will interfere as states adopt laws to allow medical marijuana or to legalize the drug entirely.

The hearing is on conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws. In calling for it, Leahy questioned whether, at a time of severe budget cutting, federal prosecutions of marijuana users are the best use of taxpayer dollars.

Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the nonprofit lobby group MPP in Washington, D.C., said he hopes for a breakthrough in the hearing that would lead to changes in federal banking laws, allowing marijuana sellers to accept credit cards and checks, not just cash.

That would do a lot to legitimize the nation’s marijuana industry, safeguarding transactions from the risk of robberies and smoothing the route away from the black market and Mexico’s drug cartels, Riffle said.

But “the elephant in the room is that we have an administration that’s essentially working around federal law” to allow states to legalize marijuana, he said. “What we should do is just change federal law — just legalize marijuana.”

This fall, Michigan lawmakers could take up bills that would ease laws on marijuana and widen medical users’ access to it.

With public attitudes bending toward legalization in the last three years and reaching a majority in March, those who favor legal weed say they’ve reached a watershed year — one like 1930 might have felt to those who welcomed the nationwide legalization of alcohol in 1933.

“It is historic — you can feel it,” said Matt Abel, a Detroit lawyer who heads Michigan NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

 

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