In November, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia became the latest states to approve the legalization of marijuana, but those laws may place them at odds with international law, according to two members of the Senate.
On Jan. 6, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa
raised their concern with Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Eric Holder that the Obama administration's decision to permit Colorado, Washington and other states to proceed with legalizing recreational marijuana not only violates federal law, but U.S. obligations under the United Nations Convention on Narcotics.
"The Department of Justice's decision to allow these state laws to take effect has put the United States in the difficult position of defending its compliance with the treaties," they wrote, adding that the nation's position as a global leader against drugs "has been weakened" by the decision.
In 2013, the Justice Department issued
a clarification of federal drug policy and said that it was deferring its right to challenge legalization laws to the states.
"These approaches threaten to weaken U.S. standing as an international leader on drug control issues and may undermine the international treaties the United States and other countries have signed," Grassley said in a press release about the letters.
The letter sets a deadline of Feb. 1 for Kerry to clarify the State Department’s interpretation of the treaties.
Their concerns are shared
by United Nations officials, who spoke out after Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield called for a "flexible interpretation" of UN Drug Control Conventions last October.
Brownfield told reporters that nations should "accept the fact that some countries will have very strict drug approaches" and "we must have some tolerance for those differing" policies.
After the November elections, Yury Fedotov, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said he did not "see how [the new laws] can be compatible with existing conventions," according to Reuters.
While they differ on the merits of liberalizing drug laws, Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority agrees with the senators that there is an inconsistency.
"When the U.S. has legal marijuana, it makes it difficult for U.S. officials to go around the world and say they should continue to prohibit marijuana," he told The Washington Post.
Angell also agrees with the senators' request for the Justice Department to put together by Feb. 15 a plan to compile information on the impact of legalization "disaggregated by state and comparable over time, so that data before and after the legalization of marijuana can be compared."
and Grassley, who serve as co-chairs of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, have worked together before on anti-drug efforts and released a report in December outlining recommendations on ways to counter illicit activities and corruption surrounding the Afghan drug trade.
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