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Justice Dept. to Enforce Marijuana Laws Regardless of Prop 19 Vote

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #654)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

US Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday in Los Angeles that the federal government will enforce its marijuana laws in California even if voters there decide in November to legalize marijuana by approving Proposition 19, the tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative.

The comments came during a joint press conference with Prop 19 foes, including Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, as well as former heads of the DEA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Cooley, who is running for state attorney general, has said he believes all medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal.

According to the Associated Press, Holder Wednesday wrote a letter written to former heads of the DEA saying the Justice Department strongly opposes Prop 19 and remains committed to enforcing the Controlled Substances Act all across the country. 

"We will vigorously enforce the CSA against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture or distribute marijuana for recreational use, even if such activities are permitted under state law," Holder wrote. Legalizing marijuana would be a "significant impediment" to the federal government's effort to target drug traffickers and would "significantly undermine" safety in California communities, the attorney general said.

Prop 19 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults over 21. It would also allow them to grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana and possess the resulting harvest. And it would allow cities and counties to permit, regulate, and tax commercial marijuana sales and cultivation.

The Holder Justice Department last year said it would not interfere with medical marijuana in states where it is legal, but the department is apparently drawing the line at legalizing recreational use. Whether the DEA could actually arrest three million California pot smokers remains to be seen.

Holder's Los Angeles press conference and release of the letter to former DEA heads did not go unchallenged. The Prop 19 campaign, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), and the Drug Policy Alliance all issued responses Friday morning.

"As we saw with the repeal of alcohol prohibition, it takes action from the states to push the federal government to change its policies," said former San Jose police chief Joe McNamara on behalf of the campaign. "Passing Proposition 19 in California will undoubtedly kick start a national conversation about changing our country's obviously failed marijuana prohibition policies. If the federal government wants to keep fighting the nation’s failed 'war on marijuana' while were in the midst of a sagging economic recovery and two wars it just proves that the establishment politicians' priorities are wrongly focused on maintaining the status quo," he said. "As will be shown on November 2, Californians are not going to let politicians in Washington, DC tell them how to vote."

"The truth is that the use of marijuana -- a substance far less harmful than alcohol or tobacco -- is widespread in this country and nothing the government can do will ever stop that," said Steve Fox, MPP's director of government relations. "The only question is how we structure the market for marijuana so that it is best for society. Will we have marijuana sold in licensed, tax-paying and regulated stores or will we continue to have it sold in a completely unregulated market that makes it more available to teens? Will we impose standards so that purchasers know the quality and purity of the marijuana they are buying or will we keep it in a far less safe unregulated market? Will we have the profits from the sale of marijuana go to legitimate taxpaying American business owners or will they go to underground dealers and cartels who will pay no taxes and defend their interests through violence?"

Saying that Holder and law enforcement opponents of Prop 19 are motivated by "arrogance, prejudice, and self interest," Fox accused them of putting their own job security ahead of the health and safety of the American people. "Attorney General Holder is not looking out for the health and safety of the American people. He is nothing more than the lead advocate for a never-ending taxpayer-funded jobs program for law enforcement officials in this country. If you look at the opposition to marijuana policy reform in this country, it is driven almost entirely by people whose jobs are dependent on arresting and prosecuting individuals for marijuana-related offenses. The only other prominent group is elected officials who ignorantly turn a blind eye to alcohol-fueled violence in our communities in order to pretend they are 'tough on crime' by going after marijuana users who simply want to enjoy a substance less harmful than alcohol in peace."

"The Attorney General’s posturing notwithstanding, this is 1996 all over again," said Steve Gutwillig, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Naysayers said then that the passage of Proposition 215, California’s medical marijuana law, would be a symbolic gesture at most because the federal government would continue to criminalize all marijuana use. Today more than 80 million Americans live in 14 states and the District of Columbia that have functioning medical marijuana laws. All that happened without a single change in federal law," he noted.

"The reality is that the federal government has neither the resources nor the political will to undertake sole -- or even primary -- enforcement responsibility for low level marijuana offenses in California.  Well over 95% of all marijuana arrests in this country are made by state and local law enforcement. The federal government may criminalize marijuana, but it can’t force states to do so, and it can’t require states to enforce federal law," Gutwillig said. 


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.


Cann_Do (not verified)

Good luck with that, Holder. The Justice Dept will have to bring in their own jack-boot thug cops, their own prosecutors and their own judges. Even then they will simply NOT find a jury to convict, and no californians will plead guilty. Holderand his little lackeys Cooley & Baca are terrified. They know they will effectively be powerless to do any effective prosecutions if Prop 19 passes.
Fri, 10/15/2010 - 3:34pm Permalink
tm (not verified)

Why is Attorney General Eric Holder positioning the Justice Department's power against the power of the people? Enforce legitimate laws. Since the source of legitimacy comes from the people, when the laws are in opposition of the people by default the power of the people always overcome the power of the written law. It seems the right step would be to call for an immediate review of the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Fri, 10/15/2010 - 3:41pm Permalink
mlang52 (not verified)

He better build a lot of prisons, because I have the feeling that every closet smoker, out there, will come out after the approval of Prop 19!  They do not have enough prison space, to put all the, legal, cannabis smokers, and growers, away!  Aren't the California prisons full, or running over budget, right now?

Fri, 10/15/2010 - 3:56pm Permalink
RevZ (not verified)

What happened to Gil Kerlikowske's stance that the war on drugs was unwinnable, unenforceable, and, essentially, over?

Fri, 10/15/2010 - 4:37pm Permalink
Barefoot Ben (not verified)

If Obama shuts down commercials sales which are legal under prop 19, we WILL vote him out of office in 2012. I'll vote libertarian, or just stay home.

Fri, 10/15/2010 - 4:38pm Permalink
Tony Aroma (not verified)

Just wondering if it would be possible for the state to eject DEA agents.  Or maybe the leases on their offices could not be renewed.  Or how about just being hassled by the police, picked up for minor offenses, stopped and searched for no apparent reason, etc.  You know, like they do to minorities now.

Or barring that, I wonder if local authorities could actually arrest DEA agents who are in violation of state law.  If Prop 19 passes, any DEA agent who conducts a raid and seizes property would essentially be an armed robber in the eyes of CA law.  Why couldn't the local sheriff arrest them and leave it to the courts to sort out?  Don't they swear to enforce the laws of the state?  

Fri, 10/15/2010 - 4:44pm Permalink
Buzzby (not verified)

From Wikipedia:

The balloon effect is an often cited criticism of United States drug policy. This effect draws an analogy between efforts to eradicate the production of illegal drugs in South American countries and what happens to the air inside of a latex balloon when it is squeezed: one part shrinks as other areas expand.

This effect happened:


This is exactly what will happen in California if the federal government follows through on its threats.  The DEA might manage to bust enough commercial producers and distributors to scare the rest out of business.  This would be a tremendous boon for the hydroponics supply houses.  Production would shift from giant farms and warehouses to people's basements, attics, spare bedrooms, and closets.  Distribution would shift from stores to quiet exchanges between friends and neighbors.

Will the DEA hire an army of new agents to take over local drug policing duties for the nation's most populous state.  I'd like to see them try to justify that kind of expenditure in this economy.

Fri, 10/15/2010 - 5:00pm Permalink
Anyse (not verified)

When the Supreme court ruled that California's proposition 219 (?) was unconstitutional, it cited interstate commerce laws as the primary reason for the ruling. It was argued that there is no way to contain the commerce of marijuana within state lines (how easy is it to go through a state line inspection station?). Well, the answer to that is that every state that REALLY wants to keep marijuana out will have to have truly secure inspection stations with plenty of manpower as well as equipment to assure that this "evil plant" will not be brought into their state. That's all. However, I am sure that it is really not this that matters in terms of the sizes of farms and the distribution in this state or any other. This would put a cramp on the deliveries of all material should this law pass and states with stronger marijuana laws really try to keep this out of their jurisdictions. In a way, this was part of the same laws for the prohibition of alcohol. It was the "runners" that helped to defeat this law! I am a medical marijuana user and it has helped me to finally be able to eat properly without having awful nausea all of the time. I even stopped using it regularly and now it is rather intermittent. I don't "have" to have a joint or a "pinch" in my pipe every day and many times a day as I see people who drink a lot! Marijuana is not addictive and one cannot overdose and die from it. There are worse things out there and we all know that alcohol is the worst of all of them, killing thousands every year in auto "accidents" that propel this weapon into people at high speeds! Yes, the Feds are, as Arnold would say, "Pumping Up" for spending.

Where will that spending go? To more prisons to employ more people. Did you know that county law enforcement agencies get extra grants and money for every person that they imprison for marijuana from the Feds? Yes, they profit on this and this is why many law enforcement officials (chiefs of police and DA's) are decrying the decriminalization of marijuana! It will hurt their "bottom line," as law enforcement agents have copies corporate practices in terms of monetary control. Again, the Feds have these agencies "hooked" and addicted to their funds! Talk about the absolute addiction as these crack-addicted money launderers have to protect their jobs, they imprison people for a purely victimless crime that is less victimizing than prostitution and all that that profession encumbers.

Just vote "yes" and let the chips fall where they may . . .

Sat, 10/16/2010 - 7:50am Permalink
Anonymous+ (not verified)

In reply to by Anyse (not verified)

Even if the fine for possession of a sing joint was $100K, police would still support a policy of arresting marijuana users and releasing them the same day.  No fine could be big enough to keep them happy.  They want to arrest marijuana users which equal more time off the streets processing peaceful otherwise law-abiding people who have successful careers but prefer using safer marijuana rather than being forced to drink.

Sat, 10/16/2010 - 10:06pm Permalink
joebanana (not verified)

It's one thing to give yourself powers your not entitled to, enforce laws that cause more harm than good, kill more innocent people, jail people for a flower, and have your head so far up your own ass you can't breath, but to go against the will of the people, in a show of defiance, is worthy of a bullet to the back of the head. Who the hell does this control freak think he is? Recall Holder NOW! THIS CLOWN IS A DANGER TO THE AMERICAN PUBLIC. His boss is a danger to the world. The US government has reached a point that they're no longer beneficial to the public, in fact they're a bigger danger to the happiness and well being of all citizens, than they are a benefit. OUR FOREFATHERS GAVE US THE DUTY TO REMOVE A TYRANNOUS GOVERNMENT, THAT TIME IS NOW. People, we have a criminal element running this nation. A terrorist cartel. It's just like WWII only we're the Nazi's. The world hates us for good reason, our government is out of control. It's a killing machine, a war machine, a death machine. We haven't provided humanitarian aid to anybody for years, instead we kill them, based on blatant lies. A government that isn't truthful to the people is evil, dangerous, it's nothing we would call a government, it's a cancer, and we better stop it.

Thu, 10/21/2010 - 12:45pm Permalink
M. Shahjahan Bhatti (not verified)

I was trained by DEA  as Investigator back in 1973-4 at Sihalla Pakistan. I thought I was working with honest people but soon it turned out that I was merely a mercenary. My life was ruined by narcotics Mafia that invisibly rules the world. Still I don't know who is to be blamed for it. I think DEA must be overhauled and corrupt elements must be punished. If USA wants to be a supper power it should avoid shortsighted policies on narcotics. It hurts not only Americans but also those who like USA and want to help it. 

Fri, 10/22/2010 - 4:50am Permalink

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