Politics, government and public life for Southern California

California lawmakers to President: Back off on marijuana penalties

Venice Beach Marijuana

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

Congressman Eric Swalwell, a former prosecutor, says he knows "very well the significant amount of time and energy that is devoted right now to enforcing laws against medicinal marijuana."

President Obama began the pot conversation in a January “New Yorker” interview. The President said he thought marijuana was less dangerous than alcohol “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”

Eighteen members of Congress – including eight Californians – sent a letter this week to the President saying they agree.

The February 12th letter to the White House is signed by Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach and Democrats Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, Zoe Lofgren of San Jose, Barbara Lee of Oakland, Eric Swalwell of Livermore, Jared Huffman of San Rafael, Mike Honda of San Jose, and Sam Farr of Santa Cruz.

In the letter, the lawmakers say “lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair” marijuana laws. They cite the nearly two-thirds of a million people arrested annually for pot possession and the billions spent every year enforcing marijuana laws they say “disproportionately impact minorities.”

Swalwell, a former prosecutor, said he knows "very well the significant amount of time and energy that is devoted right now to enforcing laws against medicinal marijuana." He says those resources should be redirected to fight "true threats to public safety."

The members ask the President to instruct Attorney General Eric Holder to reclassify marijuana under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Pot currently is listed in the same category as heroin and LSD, listed as more dangerous than cocaine and methamphetamines. The lawmakers say “this makes no sense.”

Lawmakers told the president they “hope” that Administration officials will “publicly reflect your views” on marijuana. Drug Enforcement Agency chief James Capra recently called legalization of marijuana “reckless and irresponsible.”

Congressman Lowenthal said it's time to make "unjust and irrational" federal laws more consistent with state laws. He said you don't have to legalize pot, but you don't have to send so many people to prison. When Lowenthal was asked whether he had inhaled, the Congressman only noted that he grew up in the '60s.

The White House had no comment on the lawmakers’ letter.

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