Holder cautious on topic of legalized marijuana

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont popped the question to federal Attorney General Eric Holder that so many in Colorado and Washington have been anxious about.

At a far-ranging Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Leahy asked Holder if he was prepared to announce the federal government’s response to new legal recreational-marijuana laws in those two states.

Both states are moving ahead with implementing regulations but could face lawsuits and prosecution from the federal government, which considers all forms of marijuana a dangerous illegal drug.

Holder said he’d had “good conversations” with elected leaders in those states. “We expect our ability to announce a policy relatively soon,” Holder said.

In what Leahy, a Democrat, then called a bit of editorializing, he suggested Holder’s Department of Justice should pursue “more serious things than minor possession of marijuana.”

From there, senators moved on to other issues: use of private jets by Justice officials and use of drones to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.

Alison Holcomb, the author of Washington’s new pot law, was encouraged by Holder’s few words.

“On the one hand, the statement didn’t shed much light” on the agency’s likely response, Holcomb said. “On the other, Holder made a point of commenting on his productive conversations with state leadership. That’s important. If (the Justice Department) intended to reject outright the citizens’ efforts to reform our failed marijuana laws, there would be nothing to discuss.”

Holcomb’s view is shared by other key figures in Washington state who think that Holder wants to see more details of what the state-regulated marijuana systems will look like in Colorado and Washington — and how they will safeguard against leakage of legal pot into the black market — before he announces a policy.