Top U.S. lawman opposes California marijuana bill

LOS ANGELES Mon Oct 18, 2010 3:39pm 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

Related Topics

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. 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)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (5)
FARENHEIT451 wrote:
The California State Health Minister should simply issue a blanket prescription for therapeutic marijuana use for all Californians over age 21, effective immediately, effective at any dispensary by showing valid ID. That should take care of the whole business…..

Go Prop19!!

Oct 18, 2010 4:06pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Parent wrote:
Jesus said, Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. (Matthew 7:12).

I know I would not want my child sent to jail with the sexual predators, or my aging parents to have their house confiscated and sold by the police, over a little marijuana.

We can change the world when we vote.

Oct 18, 2010 4:37pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Parent wrote:
It’s interesting that the former top health official in the U.S. favors legalization of marijuana (so maybe it’s really not that harmful?) but the top law enforcement official wants to keep it illegal (maybe it’s a big money-maker and jobs program for law enforcment?).

Oct 18, 2010 4:39pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.