In an effort to ensure new voter-approved amendments that legalize limited use of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington are not overrun by the federal government, Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette introduced bipartisan legislation Friday that aims to curtail such a scenario.
"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," DeGette, of Denver, said in a statement.
The legislation, coined "Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act," comes on the heels of Colorado voters approving Amendment 64, which legalizes up to an ounce of marijuana for anyone over the age of 21.
The bill seeks to exempt states where voters have legalized marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora, a staunch opponent of Amendment 64, supports the bill.
"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," Coffman said.
DeGette said in a statement that after the Nov. 6 election, lawmakers expressed concern about the federal government's ability to override these voter-approved initiatives and the states' rights to exercise the will of their citizens.
The legislation comes on the same day a handful of members from the state's Congressional delegation were part of a coalition of lawmakers who sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder , urging him to respect the new voter-approved marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington.
In the letter — penned by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder — DeGette and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, said they believed it would be a mistake for the federal government to "focus enforcement action on individuals whose actions are in compliance with state law."
Lawmakers write in the letter to Holder that they are concerned that the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration will continue to "threaten individuals and businesses" acting within the scope of their states' laws on medicinal use of marijuana.
The letter charges that the DEA has contradicted assurances from Holder's office in 2009 that it would not prioritize criminal charges against individuals who act in compliance with state law, and that they hope a similar outcome will not occur with the new laws that saw "overwhelming public support."
In Colorado Amendment 64 passed with 55 percent of voter support.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, held a conference call with Holder last week to gauge how the federal government will respond to Colorado's legalization of marijuana.
On Thursday, Denver prosecutors said they will no longer charge those 21 and older for carrying less than an ounce of marijuana, and will review current cases that fit under the language of a Amendment 64. Earlier in the week Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett made headlines when he announced his office will dismiss any pending cases that deal with less than an ounce of marijuana.
Several counties all across Colorado are weighing their options in how to move forward in the wake of Amendment 64's passage.
Kurtis Lee: 303-954-1655, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/kurtisalee