Nine former administrators of the Drug Enforcement Administration wrote a letter last month to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., urging him to publicly oppose the ballot initiatives that, if passed, would make the states the first in the nation to decriminalize marijuana for recreational use by adults.
“To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives,” wrote the former administrators, who oversaw the DEA under both Democratic and Republican presidents from 1973 to 2007. “We urge you to take a public position on these initiatives as soon as possible.”
Holder has not responded to the letter. The former officials are planning to hold a news conference Monday to press their concerns more publicly.
“The Justice Department should speak out ahead of the ballot initiatives to avoid immediate court action,” said Peter Bensinger, the DEA administrator from 1976 to 1981. “The initiatives will be in direct conflict with federal law, international treaty obligations and Supreme Court rulings.”
The Justice Department can file suit to try to block state laws that it deems to have violated federal statutes. It did that, for example, after Arizona passed a law in 2010 that the state said was aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants but that the Obama administration believed was unconstitutional. In other cases, officials have simply made the Justice Department’s stance clear ahead of ballot initiatives, as Holder did in 2010 when he said that officials opposed a California measure to legalize marijuana.
But with the upcoming initiatives over legalization, Justice Department spokeswoman Allison W. Price said the department would not comment. “We are not going to speculate on the outcome of various ballot initiatives state by state,” she said.
Colorado’s measure, known as Amendment 64, is the most likely to pass, according to observers and local polls. Under the measure, retail stores would be allowed to sell marijuana, and it would be taxed and regulated like tobacco and alcohol.
Growing operations would be legalized, as would “infusion factories” that could blend marijuana into brownies, candy bars and lollipops, according to Tom Gorman, the director of the federal Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
“If this passes, Colorado would have the most liberal marijuana laws in the developed world, more liberal than the Netherlands,” said Gorman, whose group brings together local, state and federal law enforcement officials. “It’s illegal for a state to pass a constitutional measure that allows its citizens to violate federal law.”