Attorney General Holder Says He Will Enforce Marijuana Laws Even If California Votes to Decriminalize, ACLU Says Continued Criminalization of Marijuana Has Disproportionate Impact on Communities of Color (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 16, 2010

CONTACT: Will Matthews, ACLU national, (646) 233-9572 or (212) 549-2582; [email protected]; Rebecca Farmer, ACLU of Northern California, (415) 269-6275; [email protected]

SAN FRANCISCO – In a letter made public late Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Department of Justice will “vigorously enforce” federal laws against marijuana in California, even if the state’s voters next month approve Proposition 19, a ballot initiative that would decriminalize marijuana in the state. The proposed initiative would allow adults 21 and older to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for their personal use and allow cities and counties to regulate and tax commercial sales. Holder’s letter was sent to nine former chiefs of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The criminalization of low-level marijuana possession has disproportionately impacted communities of color, has no impact on public safety and serves to divert criminal justice resources from the prosecution of more serious crimes.

In a letter sent to Holder several weeks ago, the former DEA chiefs urged him to take legal action challenging Proposition 19 in court if it passes and to make clear that it would be void even if passed because federal law would preempt it under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S Constitution. Holder’s letter this week was notably silent on both issues.

The following can be attributed to Allen Hopper, Police Practices Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California:

“Attorney General Holder’s silence speaks volumes. He does not say that the Department of Justice will seek an injunction against Proposition 19 being enacted because there is no constitutional basis for doing so. A bedrock constitutional principle underlying our federalist system of government prohibits the federal government from telling the state of California what laws it can and cannot pass or forcing the state to expend its resources prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses. It is deeply disappointing that the Obama administration would seek to impede a law that would go great lengths toward dismantling one of the defining injustices of our nation’s failed “war on drugs”: the fact that people of color, and especially youth of color, are disproportionately arrested for low-level marijuana possession. Such arrests do not increase public safety, and merely serve to divert already scarce criminal justice resources from the investigation of more serious crimes.”

Location: 
CA
United States

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