U.S. stance on marijuana unchanged by legalization votes: official

LOS ANGELES Sat Oct 20, 2012 10:17pm EDT

1 of 2. The current varieties of marijuana available for sale are seen written on a chalkboard at a medical marijuana center in Denver April 2, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A top Justice Department official has told "60 Minutes" the federal government is ready to combat any "dangers" of state-sanctioned recreational pot, amid criticism of the Obama administration for its relative silence on legalization drives in three states.

Voters in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon are set to vote on November 6 on whether to legalize and tax marijuana sales, raising the possibility of a showdown with the federal government, which views pot as an illegal narcotic.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole, in comments to "60 Minutes" posted on Saturday to the website of CBS affiliate KCNC-TV in Denver, said his office's stance on pot would be "the same as it's always been" if voters approved legalization.

"We're going to take a look at whether or not there are dangers to the community from the sale of marijuana and we're going to go after those dangers," Cole told "60 Minutes" in an outtake from a report on Colorado's medical marijuana industry due to air on Sunday, according to the CBS affiliate.

Cole's statement is an indication the federal government, which has raided medical pot dispensaries in several of the 17 states that allow cannabis as medicine, could also take aim at state-sanctioned recreational marijuana.

It also represents a break with the Obama administration's relative silence about the pot referendums, which has led to uncertainty about whether federal officials would stop states from taxing and regulating sales of pot in special stores to those 21 and older, as proposed under each of the three state initiatives before voters.

Representatives for the Justice Department did not return calls or emails seeking comment on Cole's remarks.

A top legalization backer, however, dismissed them as "innocuous," unlike the stance Attorney General Eric Holder took in 2010 just weeks before a failed California referendum to legalize pot.


In 2010, Holder issued a toughly worded letter that said his office "strongly" opposed the California proposal and would "vigorously enforce" drug laws against participants in the recreational pot trade, even if state law permitted it.

Holder's statement is credited with helping to convince some California voters to reject the proposal.

"Compared to what they did two years ago in California, to have their federal posture be essentially a wait-and-see approach is encouraging," said Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance, which through affiliates has funded marijuana legalization campaigns.

Polls show the American public is increasingly leaning toward legalizing pot, but no state has taken that step.

Nadelmann said pot legalization is popular with young people and independents, two groups of voters crucial to President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, and that his administration is "being smart in basically not weighing in at this time."

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. Pot activists say prohibition fails to prevent its use and enriches criminal cartels, but opponents of legalization say it would endanger health and public safety.

Former heads of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in September sent a letter to Holder urging him to publicly oppose the legalization referendums. On Monday, a former federal official expressed dismay at the Obama administration's silence.

"It's shocking, because all you have to do is say things that this administration's already said," John Walters, who served as "drug czar" to former President George W. Bush, told reporters on a conference call.

Cole's remarks to "60 Minutes" were in response to a question about the possibility of recreational pot being allowed in Colorado, according to the station, which posted a video with the outtake on its website.

"I think it is pretty clear from this video that the Obama administration won't take any legalization measure lying down," Kevin Sabet, a former adviser to Gil Kerlikowske, the Obama administration's drug policy director, said in an email.

(Additional reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Paul Simao)

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Comments (14)
brucemarsh wrote:
Attack dangers to the community??? Like the Yahoo news story about the 3 year old who found his Grandma’s pot brownies in the garage refrigerator??? Poor kid ate 4 or 5 times the adult dosage before they discovered him, then rushed him down to the hospital, where he took a long nap, woke up hungry and was sent home just fine, those kinda dangers??? Ha ha ha!!!

The most dangerous thing about pot is the Cannabis Gulag which we all pay for with our tax dollars. Aspirine is more dangerous than pot, what if that child had swallowed 5 times the adult dosage??? Does the Justice Department worry about aspirine falling into the wrong hands??? How silly.

This is sad propaganda by determined political hacks who have made lifetime careers by fearmongering the American public into attacking itself. Someone is arrested for pot every 30 seconds. Half of those are Willie Nelson and his bus…Don’t you feel safer now?

Oct 20, 2012 12:29am EDT  --  Report as abuse
sleepinsleuth wrote:
Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. 3 states, and whoever comes to their aid from the other 48 states. (tons of young people) /vs/ i don’t know a barrels worth of dea agents.

Oct 20, 2012 12:55am EDT  --  Report as abuse
jeff81201 wrote:
The War on Drugs is corporate pork, job security for DEA agents and prison guards, and opportunities for corruption for police. Stop it now.

Oct 21, 2012 3:32am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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