Senators from Colorado, Washington want federal pot laws applied fairly

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 29, 2014 5:37 PM

By Daniel Wallis

DENVER (Reuters) - U.S. senators from Colorado and Washington, seeking clarity on federal rules that may affect legal marijuana businesses in their states, are urging the Obama administration to ensure federal agencies take a consistent approach to enforcement.

Both states took the unprecedented step in 2012 of voting to allow the recreational sale of the drug to adults. The first pot retailers opened in Colorado at the start of this year, and in Washington earlier this month.

While the federal government has said it will take a hands-off approach, assuming certain conditions are met, many would-be investors say they are put off by uncertainty over the status of marijuana businesses under federal law.

In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Attorney General Eric Holder, Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington and Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado said the federal government should support their efforts to establish a successful regulatory framework.

"At times, however, certain federal agencies have taken different approaches that seem to be at odds with one another and may undermine our states' ability to regulate the industry adequately," they wrote in the letter, released on Tuesday and dated July 28.

The senators, all Democrats, said the White House should take a central role and work with all federal departments and agencies to set forth a "clear, consistent and uniform interpretation and application" of federal laws that could affect the industry.

They said their states' regulatory framework provided greater certainty for local officials, citizens and business owners, but that the industry faced uncertainty and risked the inconsistent application of federal law and the potential for selective enforcement actions and prosecution.

The senators hailed as a step forward efforts in February that seek to give cash-only marijuana businesses some access to the banking system under limited circumstances.

By contrast, they said, the Bureau of Reclamation recently interpreted its legal duty as being to alert the Department of Justice to any water use for pot cultivation in Washington, despite the bureau saying in the same policy it did not have a role in enforcing the Controlled Substances Act.

"The potential for these differing approaches underscores the need for a consistent and uniform interpretation and application of federal marijuana-related laws across all departments and agencies," the senators wrote.

(Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)