As we discussed in our December 19, 2012, and January 14, 2013, blog posts here and here, there is inherent tension between I-502’s marijuana legalization policy and federal law. Under the Controlled Substances Act (“Act”), marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, making the possession and sale of marijuana illegal under federal law. Since the passage of legalization measures in both Washington State and Colorado, federal authorities have undertaken to review the new laws and issue a response. Although the Obama Administration has been reviewing its options for some time, it has not yet taken a position on the issue.

However, despite the delay in a decision from the federal government, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has not shown any hesitation in moving forward with implementation. The agency is currently progressing along its proposed implementation timeline and expects to begin issuing marijuana producer licenses as early as mid-August of this year.  

In remarks before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, March 6, Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed that the Administration was “still considering” the federal government’s reaction to the Washington and Colorado legalization initiatives, though he asserted that it would be completed soon. 

Mr. Holder’s comments came on the heels of two announcements designed to influence the Administration’s response. The first was a statement from eight former Drug Enforcement Agency chiefs urging President Obama to fight the state initiatives by invoking the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. The former officials, both Democrats and Republicans, issued their statement under the auspices of a group called Save Our Society from Drugs. The second announcement came from the United Nation’s International Narcotics Control Board, which implored the federal government to “ensure full compliance with the international drug control treaties on its entire territory.” 

Although neither announcement is dispositive, the final conclusion of this story must wait until the federal government finally issues its policy on the matter. As Jonathan Martin wrote in The Seattle Times, it appears the matter is heading for court, and a political solution may be the most lasting solution.