Tuesday November 20, 2012 | 11:28 AM

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1, believes the feds have better ways to spend their time and money than going after law-abiding pot smokers in Colorado and Washington state.

Pingree is among 17 House Democrats who sent a letter this week to top federal law enforcement officials urging them not to crack down on people who take advantage of the voter-approved laws in Colorado and Washington legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

While recognizing the federal government’s role in preventing interstate shipments of marijuana, the letter writers said voters in the two states opted to “eliminate the illegal marijuana market controlled by cartels and criminals” by treating marijuana as a tightly regulated substance, much like alcohol.

“The voters of these states chose, by a substantial margin, to forge a new and effective policy with respect to marijuana,” they wrote in the letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Michele Leonhart, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency. “The tide of public opinion is changing, both at the ballot box and in state legislatures across the country. We believe that the collective judgment of voters and state lawmakers must be respected.”

The full letter can be found here.

The votes in Washington and Colorado are just another wrinkle in the sometimes tenuous relationship between the Obama administration and states regarding pot.

The administration has been more involved than some would prefer in states where medical marijuana is legal, although it has allowed Maine and other states to move forward with regulated dispensary and cultivation systems for the drug.

But pot is still illegal under federal law. And federal inaction on the Colorado and Washington laws will likely lead to similar votes in other states, so some suspect that the Obama administration will insist that federal law trumps state laws. The administration has not indicated how it will respond.

The majority of signers on the letter to Holder and Leonhart were from western states, although two other northeastern Democrats – Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Rep. Jerrod Nadler of New York – also signed on.

Contacted for comment on why she joined the letter, Pingree’s office released a statement suggesting there are better ways to spend federal money than going after law-abiding pot smokers.

“Voters in Washington and Colorado sent a clear message that legalization and regulation of marijuana was the right choice for their states--and their wishes should be respected," Pingree said. "There are better uses of limited federal resources than prosecuting those who are following state laws." 

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, the majority shareholder of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and the Waterville Morning Sentinel.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@mainetoday.com

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