Attorney General Holder opposes California marijuana bill

LOS ANGELES Sat Oct 16, 2010 12:45am EDT

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder discusses an antitrust issue against credit card companies at the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, October 4, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder discusses an antitrust issue against credit card companies at the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, October 4, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Attorney General Eric Holder says federal authorities will continue to prosecute individuals for possession of marijuana in California even if voters there approve a ballot measure legalizing recreational use of the drug.

The Obama administration "strongly opposes" Proposition 19, Holder wrote in a toughly worded letter to former heads of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration who had written to him expressing "grave concern" about the measure.

Passage of Prop 19 "will greatly complicate federal drug enforcement efforts to the detriment of our citizens," Holder wrote in the October 13 letter obtained by Reuters on Friday.

"Accordingly, we will vigorously enforce the (Controlled Substances Act) against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture or distribute marijuana for recreational use, even if such activities are permitted under state law," he said.

The tone and substance of the letter seemed at odds with a policy shift announced by the administration a year ago in its approach to medical marijuana, which California became the first U.S. state to decriminalize in 1996.

Reversing the position taken by the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, the Obama administration said last October that federal attorneys would no longer prosecute patients who use pot, or dispensaries that distribute it, for medical reasons in states where it has been legalized.

In his letter to nine former DEA administrators, Holder said Proposition 19 language barring "state and local law enforcement from seizing marijuana that is in compliance with state law" would impede efforts to "target drug traffickers who frequently distribute marijuana alongside cocaine and other controlled substances."

The Justice Department is considering "all available legal and policy options" should the measure win enactment, he added. The issue could very well end up moot. A Reuters/Ipos poll on October 5 showed California voters leaning against the measure, 53 percent to 43 percent.

If passed, California would become the first state to legalize simple possession of an ounce or less of marijuana for anyone 21 or older. It would also be lawful to grow limited amounts of cannabis in one's own home for personal use.

While pot sales would not be legalized outright, cities and counties could pass their own laws permitting commercial distribution subject to local regulations and taxes.

Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which backs Proposition 19, called Holder's comments political posturing, adding that 95 percent of all U.S. marijuana arrests are made by state and local authorities.

"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," he said in a statement.

(Editing by Todd Eastham)

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Comments (28)
No one really cares what Eric Holder thinks; this a democracy. What the Washington politicians don’t like is that we are deciding for ourselves instead of deferring to them. Eric Holder doesn’t like the law because it will cause him some paper cuts, not because there is anything inherently wrong with the proposed law. Citizens should vote directly on all legislation before the congress, and put the entire congress out of jobs. We hate them anyway; that is clear from the 17% approval rating congress seems to perpetually live with. Direct democracy should be our next form of government.

Oct 15, 2010 12:12am EDT  --  Report as abuse
mjs123 wrote:
If the cartels have more money, more weapons, vehicles, military and police force than the Mexican government itself, the Mexican government needs to take all that drug money to cripple them and take all the weapons first. Without money, the cartels will be crippled. They need to do Internet, phone, cell phone, communications, wire transfers and banks surveillance.

The Mexican government needs to take the war strategists approach. They need to cut the communications between the cartels, themselves and their customers. Without communications, there is no deal. Find out how they are communicating, then cut them completely. ZERO. Zilch.

Look for their transportations, then cut them completely. You have to get rid of their supports, tools and devices first, so they are disabled.

The purpose of the war on cartels is not to necessarily to kill them but to dismantle them. If you cut the communications between Pedro and Juan, they cannot coordinate and execute what they need to do. I mean if Mexico and the USA can’t even fight the cartels, how can they fight people smuggling in chemical weapons and biological weapons? They have to have the technology NOW to stop organized crime. You cannot give up on organized criminals because they will be around forever. AGAIN, you have to have the strategy and TECHNOLOGY to dismantle organized CRIME today. For God’s sake, it is the 21st century. This is not the 1930s.

Oct 15, 2010 12:15am EDT  --  Report as abuse
TechnoPagan wrote:
This whole argument is a red herring. Of course pot will still be against federal law. It’s the same with Prop 215. There is nothing in there protecting patients from federal arrest and prosecution. Doctors are required to tell you this when you get your recommendation letter. We all know and accept this.

It’s no different with Prop 19. non-medical marijuana users will still be subject to arrest by federal authorities. Anyone expecting otherwise is misinformed.

It’s taken a while but now the Federal government is making allowances for states rights in this matter. He can, however, reverse that position at any time.

It’s a “one step at a time” process and Prop 19 is the next step.

Oct 16, 2010 1:56am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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