April 5, 2016

Is the Department of Justice Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization?

The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control will hold a hearing on Tuesday, April 5, at 10:00 a.m. in SD-226 entitled, “Is the Department of Justice Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization?”

In August 2013, the Obama Administration decided to effectively suspend enforcement of federal law on marijuana in states that legalized it for recreational use.  But to disguise its policy as prosecutorial discretion, the Administration also announced federal priorities that it claimed would guide its enforcement going forward.  These priorities include preventing marijuana from being distributed to minors, stopping the diversion of marijuana into states that haven’t legalized it, and preventing adverse public health effects from marijuana use.  At the time, the Justice Department warned that if state efforts weren’t enough to protect the public, then the federal government might step up its enforcement or even challenge the state laws themselves.  This put the responsibility on the Department of Justice to monitor developments in these states, develop metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of its policy, and change course if developments warranted.

But a report from the Government Accountability Office that Grassley and Feinstein requested found that the Administration doesn’t have a documented plan to monitor the effects of state legalization on any of these priorities.  Moreover, according to the report, officials at the Department could not even say how they make use of any information they receive related to these priorities.  Grassley and Feinstein are convening this hearing to explore this problem.

The hearing transcript is available here.

Opening Statements


Chuck Grassley

Sen. Grassley’s opening statement, as prepared for delivery.


Dianne Feinstein

Sen. Feinstein’s opening statement, as prepared for delivery.


Benjamin B. Wagner

U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of California, Sacramento, California

Jennifer Grover

Director, Homeland Security and Justice, U.S. Government Accountability Office, Washington, D.C.

Panel II

Doug Peterson

Attorney General for the State of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska

Dr. Kathryn Wells

Medical Director, Denver Health Clinic at the Family Crisis Center, Denver, Colorado