WASHINGTON - Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the Obama administration still hasn't decided on how the federal government will respond to the new legal-marijuana laws passed by voters in Colorado and Washington state.
Holder appeared Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and was asked about the issue by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
The attorney general reiterated what he has said recently -- that a policy decision will be announced "relatively soon." He also said he's had good conversations with elected leaders from Washington and Colorado.
In Colorado, voters approved Amendment 64. It allows adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It also would allow people to grow as many as six marijuana plants in private, secure areas. Amendment 64 organizers said the new law will make authorities regulate marijuana like alcohol.
However, marijuana, or cannabis, remains classified under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I narcotic whose cultivation, distribution, possession and use are federal criminal acts. It's in the same category as heroin, LSD and "Ecstasy," all deemed to have high potential for abuse, ABC News reported.
The Justice Department could sue the states in an attempt to block the licensing schemes from taking effect.
In December, President Obama said recreational users of marijuana in Colorado and Washington should not be a "top priority" of federal law enforcement officials prosecuting the war on drugs.
"We've got bigger fish to fry," Obama said in an interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters.
"It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal," he said, invoking the same approach taken toward users of medicinal marijuana in 18 states where it's legal.
A Colorado congresswoman has introduced federal legislation that allows states to pass their own laws on controlled substances.
"My constituents have spoken and I don’t want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking other punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens," said Rep. Diane DeGette (D-Colorado).
DeGette said the Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act would ensure that state laws regarding marijuana will not be preempted by the federal government.
“I voted against Amendment 64 and I strongly oppose the legalization of marijuana, but I also have an obligation to respect the will of the voters given the passage of this initiative, and so I feel obligated to support this legislation,” said Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado).
Read the Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act: http://www.degette.house.gov/images/pdf/degett_037_xml.pdf