Marijuana Legalization Supporters Fire Back at Attorney General Holder
CANNABIS CULTURE - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder declared war on marijuana legalization in California on Friday by promising to "vigorously enforce" Federal drug laws if Proposition 19 passes. Now, supporters of drug law reform are firing back.
In a letter to former Drug Czars (who had earlier advised Obama to sue if Proposition 19 passes), the Attorney General said,"the Department of Justice strongly opposes Proposition 19. If passed, this legislation will greatly complicate federal drug enforcement efforts to the detriment of our citizens. [...] 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."
Marijuana policy reform groups say the Feds are talking tough, but lack resources and the political will to go to war with California's 3.3 million recreational cannabis consumers.
They say it is no surprise the Obama Administration is continuing its prohibition policies, and point to similar comments made during the lead-up of to the successful vote on Prop 215 in 1996, which legalized medical marijuana in California even though it is STILL against Federal law. The Federal government fought the medical program for years, but could do nothing to overturn State laws. Finally, on March 18, 2009, Holder announced that Obama would force the DEA to stand down, and leave med-pot patients alone if they are within state laws.
The Former DEA officials and media began immediately hyping the announcement and brought out rootin'-tootin' LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, who claims his deputies would enforce marijuana laws even if Prop 19 passes (see video).
Here are a few responses from the cannabis community:
Attorney General Holder is Wrong to Oppose California’s Marijuana Initiative
by The Marijuana Policy Project
According to the Associated Press, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter earlier this week to former heads of the Drug Enforcement Administration in which he promised that the Justice Department would continue to enforce federal marijuana laws in California even if the state’s voters approve Proposition 19, which would make marijuana legal for all adults 21 and older and allow localities to tax and regulate marijuana’s sale.
In response, Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, offered the following statement: “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. 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?
“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.
“If Attorney General Holder and the former heads of the DEA truly and sincerely cared about keeping our society safe from more dangerous drugs like cocaine, they would break the link between marijuana and harder drugs. Keeping marijuana in the illegal market does not reduce the use of harder drugs; it increases it by forcing teens and adults to purchase marijuana in the same 'stores' that sell those other drugs. This cannot be stated strongly enough: Supporters of marijuana prohibition in law enforcement, who know that alcohol use causes far more problems than marijuana use, are not motivated by concerns for public safety. They are motivated by a dangerous combination of arrogance, prejudice and self-interest. Law enforcement has lost all credibility on the subject of marijuana prohibition and it is time the American people start thinking for themselves on this issue.
“States are the laboratories of our democracy. California voters have an opportunity this November to choose an alternative to the failed policies of marijuana prohibition. Sadly, Attorney General Holder is trying to deny them that chance before the election even takes place.”
- Article from Marijuana Policy Project.
Obama administration may back marijuana prohibition, but that doesn’t mean that California voters have to do the same
by Paul Armentano, The Hill
The mainstream media was in a frenzy last week over statement’s issued by the Justice Department alleging that the office will “vigorously enforce” federal anti-marijuana laws in California, regardless of whether voters enact Proposition 19 this November. Prop. 19, which will appear as a statewide ballot measure this November 2, seeks to legalize the adult possession of limited quantities of marijuana in private, and allow local governments to regulate its commercial production.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., in a letter Wednesday to nine former chiefs of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, declared, “Let me state clearly that the Department of Justice strongly opposes Proposition 19. …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.”
To which I’d respond: So what? Of course the Obama administration is wedded to America’s failed prohibition policies. After all, it is their policy.
And of course the voters of California cannot change the federal Controlled Substances Act via a statewide vote. Nobody ever claimed that they could.
However, here’s what is noteworthy. Despite the claims from Prop. 19 opponents that the measure would be ‘preempted’ by the federal government, at no time has the administration challenge the fact that Californians have the legal right to determine their own marijuana policies. Rather, the federal government has simply reinforced that they remain of the opinion that pot ought to be criminally outlawed — a position that is clearly out-of-step with the American public’s sentiment.
Furthermore, Californians have been here before and not just in 1996, when a majority of voters decided in favor of legalizing the statewide medical use of marijuana. Seventy-eight years ago this November, Californians overwhelmingly voted for the repeal of a morally, socially, and economically failed public policy – alcohol prohibition. Voters did not wait for the federal government to act; they took the matter into their own hands. And they will likely do so again this November.
Finally, it goes without saying that the federal justice department — verbal bluster aside — lacks both the resources and the political will to take on the role of targeting and prosecuting the estimated 3.3 million Californians who are presently consuming cannabis for non-medical purposes. These duties are relegated to state, not federal, law enforcement officials. Just as medical marijuana has existed as a legal market in California, in obvious violation of federal Controlled Substances Act, Prop. 19 will too remain the law of the land post-November 2.
Which ultimately begs the question, If a government’s legitimate use of state power is based on the consent of the governed, then at what point does marijuana prohibition — in particular the federal enforcement of prohibition — become illegitimate public policy? Perhaps it is time to ask President Obama and United States Attorney General Eric Holder?
Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and is the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?
- Article from The Hill.
Attorney General's Opposition to California's Marijuana Initiative, Prop. 19, is Political Posturing
In a letter to former chiefs of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department will prosecute distribution and possession of marijuana in California even if the state's voters approve Proposition 19. He says the department remains firmly committed to enforcing the federal Controlled Substances Act in all states.
Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance offered this statement:
The Attorney General's posturing notwithstanding, this is 1996 all over again. 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.
Under our system of government, states get to decide state law. There is nothing in the United States Constitution that requires that the State of California criminalize anything under state law. If California decides to legalize marijuana through the passage of Proposition 19, nothing in the Constitution stands in the way. In fact, Congress has explicitly left to the states wide discretion to legislate independently in the area of drug control and policy. States do not need to march in lockstep with the federal government or even agree with federal law.
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.
As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis explained more than 70 years ago: "It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."
States were intended by the Framers to serve as laboratories, and are free to enact new and innovative marijuana laws, and to explore whether there is a better way. Proposition 19 is exactly that.
- Article from the Drug Policy Alliance.