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Leahy To Trump Administration: Don't Threaten States That Legalize Marijuana

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the most senior member of the Senate Judiciary committee, is expressing strong concerns about President Trump's new Supreme Court nominee, appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh
Office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, courtesy
Sen. Patrick Leahy says he wants to overturn a new Trump Administration policy that calls on the Department of Justice to crack down on states that have legalized marijuana

Sen. Patrick Leahy says he strongly opposes a decision by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to have the Department of Justice crack down on states that have legalized marijuana and Leahy says he will do everything that he can to block this new policy from going into place.

In 2013, after voters in Colorado approved a referendum legalizing the sale of marijuana, the Obama Administration adopted a policy that discouraged federal prosecutors from arresting individuals for the possession of pot in any state that had legalized it.

Now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he wants to overturn the policy because he feels it is the responsibility of the federal government to enforce national drug laws. Marijuana is considered a Class One drug — it's a designation that's also used for heroin.

Leahy says Sessions' decision comes at a time when the Department of Justice is operating on a very limited budget.

"Here's the Justice Department which doesn't have enough personnel to handle gangs that are murdering people across the country with illegal firearms but that grandmother with cancer who's getting some marijuana legally in a store we've got to do something about that,” said Leahy. “It makes no sense at all." 

Leahy hopes to attach an amendment overturning the Sessions policy to an upcoming "must pass" federal budget bill.

"Because the reaction that I'm getting from both Republicans and Democrats across the political spectrum is what in heaven's name is he wasting time on this?" said Leahy.

Local Impact

Vermont Sen. Dick Sears is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee. Sears says he's disappointed in the change of policy made by the Trump Administration.

"I think we need a more rational approach on both the state and federal level to marijuana prohibition. I think it's much better to have the states regulating it," said Sears.

Vermont is poised to become the first state in the country to legalize marijuana through the legislative process. All others have been approved through voter referendums.

A bill allowing individuals to possess up to an ounce of pot passed the Vermont House last week and will be reviewed by the Senate Judiciary committee this Wednesday. [Read more on Vermont's bill here.]

Gov. Phil Scott says he'll sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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