The U.S. Capitol dome is silhouetted by the sunrise. (Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press file)

Coherent federal weed policy needed, say Colorado, Washington senators

WASHINGTON — Concerned that federal policies toward marijuana usage in states that have legalized the drug often are “at odds with one another,” the four U.S. senators from Colorado and Washington state are asking the White House to intervene and establish “consistent and uniform” guidelines across the administration.

In a letter dated Monday, the senators expressed frustration with what they saw as conflicting messages coming from various federal agencies. And they urged Attorney General Eric Holder and Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, to help develop a single policy that would respect the rights of their states to regulate the fledgling industry.

“Without such guidance, our states’ citizens face uncertainty and risk the inconsistent application of federal law in Colorado and Washington state, including the potential for selective enforcement actions and prosecution,” they wrote.

It was signed by U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington. Both states have legalized marijuana sales for recreational use.

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As an example of the federal disconnect, the senators cited recent actions taken by the Bureau of Reclamation, which provides water to huge swaths of the western United States.

“Under the Bureau’s interpretation of its legal duty, it ‘will not approve the use of Reclamation facilities or water in the cultivation of marijuana,’ and reclamation facilities are required to notify the Department of Justice of any such use,” they wrote.

The bureau’s policy contrasts with what they see as a relatively hands-off policy advocated by the Justice Department.

A spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation said the agency simply was following federal guidelines.

“Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is still illegal,” said Pete Lucero, the spokesman. And until told otherwise, he said, the Bureau of Reclamation would continue as it has.

White House officials, meanwhile, did not respond to a request seeking comment.

Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the pro-cannabis Marijuana Policy Project, said the push for a cohesive federal policy was laudable, but that the marijuana industry wasn’t alone in wanting consistent answers from the administration on an issue.

“You probably could envision the same letter coming from Arizona and Texas regarding immigration,” he said.

Mark K. Matthews: 202-662-8907, or

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