'Historic' Senate Hearing Today On Legalizing Marijuana

Retired Superior Court Judge James P. Gray testifies in favor of a marijuana legalization bill in the California Assembly on October 28, 2009.

The law enforcement organizations that still do oppose legalizing marijuana won't tell the truth: that their departments make too much money off marijuana to consider letting go. Same for the private-prison industry! However will we keep up with our quotas if we can't bust enough potheads? What a crazy, immoral system. Hopefully, Sen. Leahy will bring a little sanity to the discussion:

The Senate Judiciary Committee will open landmark hearings Tuesday in the nation's capital that could ultimately lead to the legalization of marijuana or at least resolve the deep divide between a federal government that has sent mixed messages on prosecuting users and the growing number of Americans who want the drug to be legal for medicinal or recreational use.

Requested by its committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the timing was triggered by the announcement last month by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that federal authorities no longer will interfere as states increasingly adopt laws to either allow medical marijuana or legalize the drug entirely.

In calling for the hearing, Leahy himself questioned whether, at a time of severe budget cutting, federal prosecutions of marijuana users are the best use of taxpayer dollars.

"Leahy favors legalization," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the nonprofit lobby group Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.

Riffle 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 fledgling marijuana industry, safeguarding transactions from the risk of robberies and smoothing the route away from the black market and Mexico's cartels, Riffle said.

"But the biggest question, the elephant in the room, is that we have an administration that's essentially working around federal law" to allow states to legalize marijuana.

"What we should do is just change federal law — just legalize marijuana," he said.

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 rapidly 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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