Senate Judiciary Chairman: Let's Legalize 1 Oz. of Pot Nationwide

By Pete Winn | December 14, 2012 | 11:36 AM EST

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) AP PHOTO

( - The Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says he plans to hold a hearing in January to consider changing federal drug laws to allow people to possess up to one ounce of marijuana.

On Thursday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) released a letter that he sent earlier this month to Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), asking the nation’s drug czar how the administration intends to proceed now that two states have legalized marijuana use.

In November, voters in Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana – a move which flies in the face of federal drug laws that make it a crime to possess the controlled substance.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee has a significant interest in the effect of these developments on federal drug control policy,” Leahy wrote.

“How does the Office of National Drug Control Policy intend to prioritize Federal resources, and what recommendations are you making to the Department of Justice and other agencies in light of the choice by citizens of Colorado and Washington to legalize personal use of small amounts of marijuana?”

Leahy, a former Vermont prosecutor, signaled that he would support legalizing small amounts of pot.

“Legislative options exist to resolve the differences between federal and state law in this area and end the uncertainty that residents of Colorado and Washington now face,” Leahy wrote.

“One option would be to amend the Federal Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law.

“In order to give these options full consideration, the committee needs to understand how the administration intends to respond to the decision of the voters in Colorado and Washington. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.”

President Obama, meanwhile, indicated on Friday that he doesn’t intend to pressure either Colorado or Washington State to comply with federal drug laws – though he stopped short of endorsing legalization.

The Associated Press reported that, in an interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters airing Friday, Obama said: “It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view” to focus on drug use in states where it is now legal.

Both Colorado and Washington State have already implemented legalization.

On Monday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order officially implementing Amendment 64, the constitutional amendment that voters approved legalizing personal use and limited growing of marijuana for those 21 or older.

“Voters were loud and clear on Election Day,” Hickenlooper said. “We will begin working immediately with the General Assembly and state agencies to implement Amendment 64.”

Washington implemented its new law last week.

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