Source: By Hannah Hess CQ Roll Call – 11-13-14

WASHINGTON — Democrats representing jurisdictions that have voted to legalize recreational weed will roll out their congressional strategy on Thursday, but federal drug regulators may be plotting to handcuff the first such ballot initiative sent to Congress for review.

A former Drug Enforcement Administration associate chief counsel, who advised investigations and prosecutions arising under the Controlled Substances Act before moving into private practice in 2012, predicts the agency will be engaged in discussions with staffers to stop the District of Columbia from joining other localities that have legalized marijuana.

“No matter what the makeup of Congress is, they face a daunting task — allowing, by act of Congress, (people) to engage in something that is forbidden by federal law,” said Larry P. Cote, who now co-leads Quarles &Brady’s DEA compliance and litigation practice group and serves as the managing partner of the firm’s D.C. office. Cote described it as a “Catch-22.”

Last week, 64 percent of D.C. voters approved a ballot initiative that would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants at home, three of which can be mature. Election results should be certified Nov. 20. Then — like any District law impacting the criminal code — the D.C. Council must transmit the measure to Congress for a 60-day review.

If Capitol Hill allows District residents to cultivate their own cannabis for recreational purposes, are members signaling they’ve changed their minds on marijuana being a Schedule 1 drug — opting for a more lenient drug policy than the President Barack Obama administration?

“It doesn’t seem like there’s an appetite for that in Congress at all,” Cote said. Even after Obama expressed sympathy for state medical marijuana laws and decriminalization in his 2008 campaign, the Democrats controlling both chambers didn’t act to relax federal drug laws, Cote said, adding that such a move would “probably create a headache for law enforcement.”

Under DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart, the agency continues to classify pot as among the most dangerous narcotics, while supporting scientific research efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to study its medicinal properties. Federal narcotics agents have not receded from their clearly delineated enforcement responsibility under federal law, despite changes in public opinion.

Still, the pot lobby thinks D.C. has a potent chance.


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