Politics & Leadership: Feds Give Go-Ahead To State Pot Laws

Politics & Leadership: Feds Give Go-Ahead To State Pot Laws

 FEDS GIVE GO-AHEAD TO STATE POT LAWS: Well before voters in Colorado and Washington authorized the recreational use of marijuana in those states last November, concerns were raised that the federal government would squash any such efforts because they would be in conflict with the federal ban on the drug. But in a conference call with the governors of the two states last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department would not block the states' legalization efforts but instead focus on preventing sales of the drug to minors, keeping profits out of the hands of gangs and preventing legalized pot from spreading to states where it is still illegal.

Holder's decision is in keeping with the directive he issued last month mandating that U.S. attorneys stop prosecuting low-level drug offenders and send them to drug treatment instead. It's also an acknowledgement of the fact that the Justice Department would likely be unable to stop state legalization of marijuana in court, according to a Congressional Research Service report issued earlier this year.

Whatever the motivation, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) praised the decision.

"We recognize how difficult this issue has been for the Department of Justice and we appreciate the thoughtful approach it has taken," Hickenlooper said in a statement. "Amendment 64 put Colorado in conflict with federal law. Today's announcement shows the federal government is respecting the will of Colorado voters." (STATELINE, STATE NET)

CO RECALL ELECTION DRAWING ATTENTION: A homegrown campaign to oust two Democratic state senators in Colorado is drawing considerable attention from outside the state's borders, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and news coverage in Sweden. The reason is that the two senators are facing recall elections — the first of their kind in the state — for their support of a package of measures passed by the state's General Assembly in March.

A total of $2 million has been poured into the Sept. 10 race. Over $100,000 of that has come from the National Rifle Association, for mailings, radio, cable and online ads supporting the recall of Colorado Senate President John Morse (D) and Sen. Angela Giron (D), both of whom supported the new gun restrictions. Bloomberg has pitched in $350,000 to fight the recalls. The mayor "has said he is going to support officials across the country who are willing to stand up to the N.R.A. and Washington gun lobby to support sane gun laws that will keep guns out of the hands of criminals," a spokesman for the mayor said in an email to the New York Times.

Some see the vote as a litmus test on how voters in a swing state with a tradition of gun ownership respond to gun control.

"There's symbolic importance to both sides," said Eric Sondermann, founder and chairman of SE2, a media consulting firm in Denver. "If they're recalled, it would be interpreted as a rejection of the gun control agenda, a rejection of what Colorado passed. If these two prevail, then maybe that's one more nick in the armor of the N.R.A. and the gun advocates."

The recall is also being fueled by a widening rift over the state's identity, what the Times described as a battle "between the Colorado of F-150s, hunting trips and rural towns, and the Colorado of Subarus, ski passes and downtown lofts." Tension between those competing identities has been ratcheted up this year not only by the Democrat-controlled Legislature's passage of the new gun control laws, but also laws allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition and authorizing civil unions for same-sex couples.

"A decision needs to be made in this state," said Jon Caldara, president of the libertarian Independence Institute. "Are we going to be an urban-centric state where urbanites choose what happens, or will this be a state like Colorado has traditionally been, where we have the liberty and freedom for different communities to do different things?"

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted last month seemed to reflect that dichotomy but in a way that doesn't bode well for the recall effort. The survey of 1,184 registered Colorado voters found that while a majority opposed the package of new gun laws, they also opposed the recalls by a nearly 30-point margin.

As Jackie Haines-Bobbitt, a retired teacher in Colorado Springs who considers herself a "hard-core Democrat," put it, "Recall elections are left for someone who's done something criminal or unethical."

"This is a huge waste of money," she said. "That's not how the system works." (NEW YORK TIMES, STATE NET)

POLITICS IN BRIEF: UTAH and 22 other states have filed a court brief supporting the National Rifle Association's challenge to a law prohibiting federally licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to people under the age of 21 (DESERET NEWS [SALT LAKE CITY]).

— Compiled by KOREY CLARK

GOVERNORS IN BRIEF: The non-partisan CALIFORNIA Legislative Analyst's Office said Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) proposal to cut almost 10,000 inmates from the state prisons will satisfy a court order in the short term but will likely lead to more overcrowding in future years (See more on this issue in the Aug. 5 and Sept. 2 issues of SNCJ). Brown's proposal is in response to an order from a three-judge federal panel to reduce the prison population by Dec. 31. The legislation is now in the Assembly, with a vastly different competing measure in the Senate (STATE NET). • Lawyers for embattled VIRGINIA Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) billed the Old Dominion over $90,000 for work performed in June. Invoices were heavily redacted, but the work is presumed to be related to two cases: a criminal case alleging embezzlement by the former chef at the Executive Mansion and ongoing state and federal investigations into McDonnell's connection to a Virginia businessman who lavished the governor and his family with hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and loans. Total billings to the state have reached just under $144,000 (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH).

CRIME & PUNISHMENT: The CALIFORNIA Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation announces that it will allow prison inmates to marry non-incarcerated partners of the same sex. Those inmates, however, are not allowed to marry another inmate of the same sex (SACRAMENTO BEE).

POTPOURRI: The CALIFORNIA Senate gives final endorsement to SB 363, which would require gun owners to lock up their weapons if they live with a convicted felon or anyone else who is prohibited from owning a firearm. It moves to Gov. Brown (UNION DEMOCRAT [SONORA], STATE NET).

WE'RE NUMBER ONE, WE'RE NUMBER ONE: The data is in and the winner is clear: Louisiana is the most politically corrupt state in the country. Hold your cards and letters — it's not us saying that! That inglorious distinction comes courtesy of the website Business Insider, which bestowed the title on the Pelican State based on having 403 public officials convicted on various crimes "involving abuses of the public trust" between 2002 and 2010. Now, some Florida residents might take umbrage at this, noting the Sunshine State had 618 convictions during this same period. But on a per-capita basis, that is only 3.28 convictions per 100,000 residents, which pales in comparison to Louisiana's 8.76/100K ratio. The state closest behind is actually North Dakota at about 8/100K. The least corrupt is South Carolina at about 1/100K. Which may be the first time the Palmetto State has been happy to finish last at something.

— Compiled by RICH EHISEN

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