Attorney General Eric Holder says he will "vigorously enforce" federal marijuana laws in California if Prop 19 passes, and he's taking a lot of well-deserved heat for it. To even suggest that he could somehow bust every pot-smoker in California is just ridiculous on its face, and reeks of desperate last-minute political manipulation. But after watching this event unfold and reading the statement itself, I'm less concerned about federal interference with Prop 19 than ever before.
Holder's apparent reluctance to shake up the Prop 19 debate with empty threats was so disturbing to marijuana prohibition's biggest stakeholders that they took matters into their own hands. Had he not been challenged in a public forum, Holder would likely never have sent the letter to begin with, nor is it even clear that he intended for it to go public. The Associated Press, which broke the story, says they "obtained a copy of the letter," without specifying where it came from. Considering how eager these ex-DEA bosses were to get this message out, they're the most likely source of the leak. On the other hand, if Holder was responsible, then he not only disclosed it anonymously, but also scheduled it for a Friday news dump when the story would get the least attention.
Whatever actually happened here, the bottom line is that Holder's actions don't exactly amount to the deliberate attack on Prop 19 that they've been made out to be. If he wanted to throw cold water on legalization efforts in California, he would have done so in dramatic fashion months ago, instead of waiting until his conspicuous silence began driving the drug warriors mad. After all, when Holder announced that he would respect state medical marijuana laws, he leaked the story on a Sunday night, kicking off a week-long news cycle of universally positive coverage and delighting a key segment of Obama's base. They know what they're doing.
The point here isn't that Eric Holder (or the President) necessarily wants Prop 19 to pass, but rather that the Obama Administration does everything it can to avoid aggressive anti-pot posturing. This isn't to say that their policies aren't essentially the same sick disaster we've been dealing with for decades, or that they shouldn't be condemned accordingly, or that we owe them any gratitude whatsoever for the kinder, gentler drug war approach they've been peddling so disingenuously. The point is simply that Holder's letter is a joke, and this whole narrative about the feds threatening to crack down in California is silly, not only for the obvious practical reasons others have pointed out, but also because Holder only wrote that letter to placate nine pissed-off prohibitionists, not to scare millions of Californians.
It's easy and appropriate to get angry when the President, or the Drug Czar, or the Attorney General says something stupid about marijuana policy, but it's worth noting that nobody in this administration ever even mentions marijuana unless they are asked loudly, repeatedly, and publicly. Their harshest words are whispers compared to everything that's come before, and if this is the Obama Administration's idea of opposing legalization, then they're obviously a lot more afraid of us than we are of them.