AG Eric Holder: Feds Will Enforce Marijuana Laws Regardless of Prop 19

Attorney General Eric Holder announced today the Justice Department will continue to prosecute marijuana offenders in California, even if Proposition 19 passes.

The comments came during a joint press conference with Prop 19 foes, including Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, as well as former heads of the DEA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Cooley, who is running for state attorney general, has said he believes all medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal.

More on the press conference here. He gave the same response in a letter this week to the ex-Chiefs of the DEA who had written him in August requesting the Government stop Prop 19 from taking effect if it passes.

Marijuana Policy Project and Drug Policy Alliance respond. From DPA:

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.

Holder from his letter, obtained by the AP and not available yet online:

"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," Holder wrote. Legalizing marijuana would be a "significant impediment" to the federal government's effort to target drug traffickers and would "significantly undermine" safety in California communities, the attorney general said.

The Ex-DEA chiefs, in their letter, compared the feds attempt to enjoin Arizona's immigration law and their request to enjoin Prop 19 is not a valid one, according to one law professor, and Holder's comments are more bark than bite:

If Arizona wants to crack down on illegal immigration more strictly than the federal government, the U.S. can act to prevent police in the state from enforcing the law, said Robert Mikos, a Vanderbilt University law professor who studies the conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws.

If California prevents police from enforcing the stricter federal ban on marijuana, the Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government cannot order local law enforcement to act, he said.

I agree with those who say Holder's comments are political posturing and have more bark than bite. California voters who favor Prop 19 should not be deterred from voting.
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  • Display: Sort:
    Fed power would be limited (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by robotalk on Fri Oct 15, 2010 at 06:58:26 PM EST
    to raids and such, since there is no federal police force.

    Still, could hamper any farming or processing operations very easily.

    Net effect would probably be personal use would be legal, farming, processing and organized selling still in danger.

    robotalk, you are correct! (none / 0) (#3)
    by Gerald USN Ret on Sat Oct 16, 2010 at 12:50:18 AM EST
    I agree the DEA won't bother with minor transactions, but large amounts will be a good target and could actually profit the DEA when it converts assets seized in the raids.

    They would probably stick to the classes of
    manufacture, cultivation

    And the Federal Government can seize assets from drug sales, and assets used in the drug business.  Vehicles, money, farms, stores, shops, etc.

    Likewise if for example a store owner or farmer keeps a firearm for protection against robbers or some such, the firearm can and probably add to the sentencing.

    Now I don't pretend to be a lawyer, but the above seems pretty obvious.

    As for the DEA's seizures, Steve Martin said it well in that old movie "The Jerk,"  ""Oh, I get it! It's a profit thing!"


    Yep... (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by kdog on Sat Oct 16, 2010 at 09:37:33 AM EST
    A profit thang...the feds ain't gonna chase small fish smoking joints or selling dubs, not feasible or profitable...they'll wait for successful growers and distributors to amass some profits, and then jack them at gunpoint....the big score.

    I'm wondering if there might be a brightside to this stance if Prop 19 passes...oe cocern is big corporations running the little guy out of the reefer business...the feds threat might keep an Anheiser Busch of reefer outta the game, too risky, and actually help the little guy be the main source for legal reefer in Cali...many small growers/distributors are harder for the feds to track and jack, 3 or 4 corporate monoliths would be easy pickings.


    I think they will go after the Small Fish (none / 0) (#12)
    by SteppingRazor on Sun Oct 17, 2010 at 07:22:44 PM EST
    "...the feds ain't gonna chase small fish smoking joints or selling dubs, not feasible or profitable.."

    Whoa there big fella. I would ask readers to check out the TV Propaganda show "DEA". They go after low level dealers regularly. Check it out.

    Just like air aces ANY druggie is a kill. These small fish as you call them are used to both increase a DEA agents score but add to their long list of snitches.

    If I have convinced you They/DEA will go after the little fish maybe we could discuss the real purpose of the War On The American People, errrr, the Drug War, and that is the intimidation, terrorization and CONTROL of the American People.

    Got a problem with the negroes?? Labels of Rapist Coke Fiends/Crackheads should avoid any problems with rascist labeling of Negroe Control Measures.

    Mexican problem? Marijuana Trafficer label should work.

    Rebellious White Middle Class Kids?? LSD Crazie, Speed/Meth Head, Pot Head should work for usable labels to suppress them.

    Got to keep the Rabble down. How else can "Our Kids" rise to our level of expectation of their rightful place as rulers in society.


    You're right... (none / 0) (#13)
    by kdog on Mon Oct 18, 2010 at 09:14:02 AM EST
    I've seen that "DEA" show, its bloody awful.  The DEA will start at the bottom to get snitches and work their way up...I stand corrected

    Will they be able to with any degree of success in Cali if Prop 19 passes, without the cooperation of local law enforcement? I doubt it...they barely have any success with the cooperation of local law enforcement...not to discount the horror perpetuated on those who do get pinched, but most don't...and thank the sun god for that.


    interesting. (1.00 / 0) (#2)
    by cpinva on Fri Oct 15, 2010 at 09:01:07 PM EST
    i looked in the constitution. it explicitly gives the federal government sole purview, with respect to immigration. however, nowhere in that document does it provide the same sole authority, with respect to drug laws.

    methinks the former DEA chiefs might do well to just keep quiet. everytime they open their mouths, either individually, or collectively, they seem to publicly display their ignorance, of the very laws they are supposedly charged with enforcing. this is not encouraging.

    with respect to AG Holder's statement: does he plan on allocating the resources to CA, to arrest every citizen in violation of federal drug laws?

    obviously, he doesn't. which makes his statements even more ludicrous, because everyone knows he can't back them up.

    perhaps, time for AG Holder to go back to his corner, and re-think this.

    One irony: (none / 0) (#4)
    by Mr Natural on Sat Oct 16, 2010 at 08:59:38 AM EST
    In Michigan, voters through a referendum legalized medical marijuana.  According to an attorney I know, it was a spectacularly poorly written law, but since the professional politicians weren't interested in legalization, activists had to write the ballot referendum themselves.  Anyway, the ink wasn't even dry on the election result signatures when cities and townships all over the state began writing and passing local roadblocks and restrictions.

    The takeaway: It is more than a bit ironic that the primal reaction of elected officials is to ignore and act in opposition to the voter's expressed wishes.

    Mr Natural! (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Zorba on Sat Oct 16, 2010 at 02:26:05 PM EST
    What does it all mean?   ;-)
    (Sorry, I couldn't resist.  I'm showing my age.)

    AG race in California (none / 0) (#6)
    by movalca on Sat Oct 16, 2010 at 12:34:05 PM EST
    I'd be interested in knowing Cooley's(R) opponent, Kamala Harris(D)  has to say. I think Cooley may lose the election to state AG for his statements and for other reasons.

    She's silent. (none / 0) (#8)
    by Ben Masel on Sat Oct 16, 2010 at 02:42:30 PM EST
    Since she'd much earlier come out against the Initiative, probably wise.

    Odd holder's decision to do this as, in effext, a campaign appearance for Cooley.


    Great news. (none / 0) (#9)
    by Ben Masel on Sat Oct 16, 2010 at 02:44:09 PM EST
    Won't cost us hardly any Democratic votes, but will push 10s of thousands of Tea Party/ Sovereignty folks to vote FOR 19.

    State's rights and pot? (none / 0) (#10)
    by diogenes on Sat Oct 16, 2010 at 04:32:51 PM EST
    What do you know...next the DPA will be pushing for the states to be able to disregard federal laws about mandatory health care.

    LIke how the folks in NYC (none / 0) (#11)
    by Harry Saxon on Sat Oct 16, 2010 at 06:43:54 PM EST
    can decide over the "Ground Zero" mosque?

    State's rights is fine, but patriotism should be allowed to override local concerns.