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Former DEA Heads Urge Holder to Oppose Marijuana Legalization Measures

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #750)

Every former head of the DEA since it was created by Richard Nixon in 1973 has signed onto a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to speak out against the marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot in three Western states. The former top narcs warned that silence would be seen as acquiescence.

Eric Holder
"We urge you to oppose publicly Amendment 64 in Colorado, Initiative 502 in Washington, and Measure 80 in Oregon," the former DEA chiefs wrote. "To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives."

Legalization at the state level would be a "direct violation of the Controlled Substance Act," they wrote. "Since these initiatives would 'tax and regulate' marijuana, there is a clear and direct conflict with federal law."

The former top narcs said they were "encouraged" by Holder's having spoken out against California's 2010 Proposition 19 and by President Obama's strong stance against legalization. They urged Holder to take a public position against the initiatives "as soon as possible."

Reuters reported that Holder's office had no comment on the letter, but former ONDCP official Kevin Sabet told the news agency he wouldn't be surprised if Holder again spoke out against legalization.

"Essentially, a state vote in favor of legalization is a moot point since federal laws would be, in (Holder's) own words (from 2010), 'vigorously enforced,'" Sabet said. "I can't imagine a scenario where the Feds would sit back and do nothing."

But marijuana legalization backers described themselves as unsurprised by the letter and were quick to strike back.

"Anyone who is objective at all knows that current marijuana policy in this country is a complete disaster, with massive arrests, wasted resources, and violence in the US and especially in Mexico," said Jill Harris, managing director of strategic initiatives for Drug Policy Action, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Similarly, Mason Tvert, co-director of the Colorado Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, told The Huffington Post Monday that he expected no less from the former top narcs, but that Holder and the Obama administration would be wise to reject their call.

"It is not surprising that these men, who have made a living off of marijuana prohibition, want their successors to continue profiting from the existence of the underground marijuana market," Tvert wrote. "They just want to keep billions of taxpayer dollars flowing to their buddies. They know that marijuana prohibition isn't really improving public safety; just as our nation's streets weren't safer when Al Capone and his cohorts controlled the alcohol trade," he added.

"For Eric Holder to act as the mouthpiece for these old school warriors of the irrational war on marijuana that is rapidly losing public support would be sending a message to tens of thousands of passionate supporters of Amendment 64 that their opinions do not matter," Tvert warned the administration. "He will be telling them that Colorado must continue to live under a system of marijuana prohibition not because it makes sense, but because the federal government demands it. Most people accept the view that drug prohibition has been a colossal failure."

What will Holder do? Time will tell.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


saynotohypocrisy (not verified)

It's not a moot point because most enforcement is done by the states and localities not the feds. And it sends a powerful shot across the bow of the clowns in Washington, who absolutely need it on the subject of marijuana. Half the country supports legalizing cannabis, but only 1% of the House and 0% of the Senate support it, at least publicly and precious few of the others are willing to even honestly discuss the subject.This is a perverse situation in a democracy and these legalization initiatives are the one golden opportunity available to redress the balance and compel the wildly unrepresentative representatives to pay attention to the opinions of 1/2 the country. They need to show a "decent respect" (as the Declaration of Independence put it) for the opinions of their fellow citizens, but they don't have respect for anything but power. Passing these legalization initiatives is the only chance this year to speak to them in the only language they understand. 

Mon, 09/10/2012 - 10:31pm Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

Talk about talking dinosaurs.These guys ask for the same thing every year.The return of the 1950's.Back when you could beat an addict to death and no one cared.Back when that mari ju ana was kept hidden and never spoken of in polite company.So far,all they get every year is a lump of coal.Even Santa hates a party pooper.

Tue, 09/11/2012 - 1:37am Permalink
Mr truth (not verified)

If this becomes law I agree that there is no way the federal gov can enforce people growing a few plants in their backyard or someone having an ounce on them. But whomever tries to open a warehouse with a few thousand plants in it will be put on the local news and will catch a 10 year sentence quick. Also the Feds will cut federal funding to police forces and "interdiction" funds will no longer be available. This is the first step in a long road but don't kid yourself that some good people won't get incarcerated in the process.
Tue, 09/11/2012 - 3:36am Permalink
shonymous (not verified)

A vote for Obama is a vote for the War on People Who Use Drugs.


Sit on your hands or vote for an alternative. This is a terrific way to get the attention needed. The idea that being drowned by Tweedledee is better than hung by Tweedledum is foolish. Do not get suckered (again).

Tue, 09/11/2012 - 2:39pm Permalink
saynotohypocrisy (not verified)

In reply to by shonymous (not verified)

To me, your phrasing implies that alcohol and tobacco aren't drugs, and I don't want to give alcohol abusers any excuses for thinking they don't have a drug abuse/addiction problem, and therefore thinking everything they hear and read about drug abuse and drug addiction doesn't apply to them.

Tue, 09/11/2012 - 9:25pm Permalink
shonymous (not verified)

In reply to by saynotohypocrisy (not verified)

I entirely agree with the point you make. The post was done fast and I thought later along the lines you noted.

Perhaps a better phrase is " War on People we can Beat Up Easily". Or " Endless War on Scapegoats ".

In any case, I expect we agree on the Main Point.

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 5:22pm Permalink
Mark Mitcham (not verified)

In reply to by shonymous (not verified)

I used the Tweedledum/Tweedledee metaphor myself back in 2000, and some folks are still mad at me for voting for Nader.  I have no apology, just the word "Gore/Leiberman".  Two sides of the same coin.... then.  But I think 2012 is different.  Obama, despite his betrayal of the marijuana community, is more progressive on drug issues than Romney's camp.  Without justifying Obama raids, there is a progressive difference this time.  I'm voting Obama out of strategy.  Romney says "NEVER" legalize it.  Would you really prefer that shit over what we have now?  Not me.

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 10:23pm Permalink
Kurt (not verified)

In reply to by Mark Mitcham (not verified)

"Obama, despite his betrayal of the marijuana community, is more progressive on drug issues than Romney's camp.  Without justifying Obama raids, there is a progressive difference this time."


Obama is not in any substantive way "more progressive on drug issues than Romney". You couldn't fit a Zig-Zag paper between their positions on drug policy. Whatever differences exist between Obama and Romney are illusory, rhetorical legerdemain designed to fool people into voting against their own interests.

Stop falling for Obama's rainbow pony spell. His approach to cannabis policy is as regressive and reactionary as the worst Republican's. if you even occasionally smoke cannabis he thinks you should be put in jail for it. There is no way to finesse that fact away.

A proponent of rational drug policy voting for Obama (or obviously Romney) would be comparable to an African-American voting for the KKK. Insane.

Thu, 09/13/2012 - 7:05pm Permalink
Mark Mitcham (not verified)

In reply to by Kurt (not verified)

What about the "change" to the crack/cocaine sentencing disparity?

Yes, it was underwhelming, from a reformer perspective, but it did happen.

With all due respect, and a pass of the J, I believe I can fit exactly one Zig-Zag

between the two position.  Like I said, it's underwhelming.  But I'll take it over


I respect those who find it to be a distinction without a difference, I see the reasoning.

But I'll take that Zig-Zag advantage.


Thu, 09/13/2012 - 8:19pm Permalink
Jerry Birkey (not verified)

In reply to by Mark Mitcham (not verified)

I believe and know that voting for Ron Paul is our only way to save ourselves and our country.Let the taxpayers decide whats best for our country.They supposedly work for us,and paid quite handsomely I might add,and we pay the rape taxes and finance this out of control,out of touch,greedy and self centered bunch of so-called politicians out for their own proffit and well being at our exspense.We need to regulate banking,audit the reserve and fed govt and prosecute the guilty and let um swing.This type of behavior is starting to show in our law enforcement,courts and state,county and city govts.I hope and pray that people see the two evils and how alike they are and dont forget a true politician and at least decent man Ron Paul.He's still got my vote as long as the feds and local auditors dont cheat that vote to.

Thu, 09/13/2012 - 10:22pm Permalink
Mark Mitcham (not verified)

In reply to by Jerry Birkey (not verified)

I respect third party votes enormously.  They are important and they matter.

Obama has chosen his positioning, and if he gets "Nader-ized" by third party votes, and Romney wins, I will be disgusted and miserable, but I won't blame the third-party voters.  You're not only within your rights, but you make a whole lot of sense.  But...

I'm voting Obama, again, but not out of idealism this time.  Out of pragmatism!  Truth is, as a stoner, and a patient, and a reformer, I would rather have President Obama than President Romney.  Wouldn't you?

Thu, 09/13/2012 - 10:43pm Permalink
Nemo (not verified)

Individual States, starting with New York State under Governor Al Smith, in 1923, did exactly that. They refused to allow local law enforcement to be involved in what was essentially a Federal operation by withdrawing their local LE support. All done very quietly, of course, so as not to further embarrass the already commonly-lampooned 'Drys". But said Drys never were able to see beyond their moral myopia, and the whole sordid mess continued...until we couldn't pay for it anymore. When the fiscal party was over thanks to the Great Depression, the bill came due, and we couldn't afford the 'tab'. Scratch one idiotic social policy.

How much longer Prohibition 2 lasts will also be determined eventually by how much more bankrupt this country becomes thanks to the handful of wars, overt and covert, we are presently engaging in around the world...and how long our creditors are willing to see their loans used to purchase weapons being used to corral them, courtesy of  US-built bases in adjoining countries around the world. I imagine they're about the pull the plug anyday... and there's nothing that Sabet or his ilk can do about that.

Drug prohibition has been just as much an 'awful flop' (as one poem described the earlier attempt at legislating morality) and it has been even vastly more expensive, the tune of a trillion dollars. A trillion dollars we don't have now nd desperately need, but we have the greedhead prohibs to thank for that. Just couldn't keep their snouts out of the trough, and now here's not much left for the really important things. Hopefully, someone may remind them of that after the dust settles...courtesy of tar baths and feather rinses.

Tue, 09/11/2012 - 3:25pm Permalink
Tony Aroma (not verified)

A non-elected bureaucrat telling voters their votes don't matter!  At least they have some cajones.

Tue, 09/11/2012 - 8:21pm Permalink
Menacemotors (not verified)

No matter who is in charge this "war" on the people must end. Too much $ is bing made by private jails & crook politicians Vote out all who oppose legalization. Call your Congress member who is up for reelection and let them know where you stand. If you don't vote, you have NO right to complain. Congress can reschedule MJ. A sitting president alone won't do it. Obbummer lied about it and jokes about it.
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 8:23am Permalink
Phil DeBowl (not verified)

In Washington state there is I-502,which will allow licensing and regulation of MJ.of course ,as in any legislation,there is debate about what the effect will be if it passes,and as happened in California the pro Cannabis community is devided on the issue and may hand the prohibitionists another victory by voting it down. I-502 is not perfection and I wish it included language to allow home growing,but it doesn't,others are concerned about the 5 ng/ml "per se" DUI limits. I intend to vote Yes on 502 because I believe it moves U.S. closer to the ultimate goal of RE-Legalization, a No vote will send the message to the prohibitionists that there is no popular support for MJ legalization and we will be stuck for another year.
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 12:37pm Permalink
deepthought (not verified)

I have been eagerly awaiting the first state to Legalize for over 40 years. To my pleasant surprise, it appears there will be two first states rather than just one. Hooray!

This "two state solution"  doubles the problems for the Fed. Washington State (12 electoral votes) may well claim exemption from the interstate commerce clause that the Fed uses to justify federal cannabis laws at the state level.

Colorado (6 electoral votes) legalizes in a different way, forcing the fed to file separate law suits.

It will be a nervy thing for the administration to tell 18 electoral votes worth of people that their democratic vote will be overridden by the iron hand of the federal government.

Finally the battle lines are drawing near.......may the good guys for change win for a change...........Hooray for legalization!

Thu, 09/13/2012 - 5:39pm Permalink
knowa (not verified)

When I think of how former DEA head  Karen Tandys went after Marc Emery  because of his  legalization efforts its nothing more than treason these people have caused enough carnage.  Talk about being on the wrong side of History. 

Thu, 09/13/2012 - 8:29pm Permalink

The DEA is just another self-perpetuating level of bureaucracy.

Law enforcement needs to re-direct its focus on crimes... to those that are REAL crimes.

I spent 5 years in Federal Prison for a marijuana offense. I watched armed bank robbers come and go in as little as 20 months. 

After 3 years 'behind the wall,'  I pointed this out to the parole board. Their response: “You must understand, yours was a very serious offense.”
How do you respond to that mentality? 

I laughed about the parole panel's comment for 2 more years (as I still sat in prison), then wrote my book:
Shoulda Robbed a Bank

No, it is not a treatise on disproportionate sentences, but a look at what the 'marijuana culture' is really about.
People pursuing happiness in their own way. Harming no one...nor their property.

That’s my contribution to helping point out just how ludicrous our pot laws truly are.

Fri, 09/14/2012 - 9:55am Permalink
Paul Pot (not verified)

Depending on how you see them, these guys are either the biggest losers in the world or the lowest criminals on the planet. 

They have never fulfilled their job description to rid the world of drugs, there is only more drugs and more suffering as a result of their actions. 

Wiki leaks revealed that the DEA is running the show in Mexico and that war is down to them, they are war criminals. 
They can't allow the drug war to end or their crimes will be revealed by the peace that follows legalization. 
They can no longer intimidate the people to accept their crimes.  
All seven ballot initiatives could win this November and it will null and void federal and international law and other
nations sick of the blood bath or financial crisis they are in just go ahead and legalize. 
The world is watching. 
Register to vote for marijuana ballot initiatives in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Arkansas, Montana, Massachusetts,
North Dakota and any reform friendly politician. 
Gary Johnson for president. 
War is Over! 
Fri, 09/14/2012 - 3:21pm Permalink

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