DENVER–Attorney General Eric Holder is coming under national and international pressure to nullify efforts in Colorado and Washington to authorize adult recreational marijuana use.
Nine former Drug Enforcement Administration chiefs and four ex-drug czars have urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to quiz Holder when he appears before the committee Wednesday for an oversight hearing.
In a letter dated Monday, the ex-drug officials asked senators to encourage Holder “to adhere to a long-standing federal law and policy in this regard, and to vigorously enforce the Controlled Substances Act.”
“Our nation urgently needs action from Attorney General Holder to ensure that federal marijuana laws are enforced, federal preemption is asserted, and our obligations under international drug treaties are honored,” said the letter to Senate Judiciary Committee members.
The letter coincided with an annual report from a United Nations agency, the International Narcotics Control Board, calling on U.S. officials to “ensure full compliance with the international drug control treaties on its entire territory.”
Holder said last week that he would issue a policy directive “soon” on ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over. Both measures–Colorado’s Amendment 64 and Washington’s Initiative 502–were approved by voters in November.
“We’re still in the process of reviewing both the initiatives that were passed,” said Holder at a Feb. 26 meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General in Washington, D.C.
Pro-pot groups issued statements Tuesday blasting the effort by the ex-drug officials to influence Justice Department policy.
“The war on drugs has been a failure by every measure,” said Neill Franklin, spokesman for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “It’s unfortunate the DEA heads can’t admit this failure. As someone who gave three decades of his life fighting this ‘war’ on the ground, I can tell you that from that perspective, this policy was dead on arrival.”
Steve Fox, national political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the “Cold War-like mentality demonstrated by the former DEA heads is as outdated as the Cold War itself.”
“President Obama said in December that we need to have a discussion about how to reconcile state and federal marijuana laws. He did so because he understands that the American people, starting with the voters in Colorado and Washington, are ready to put the failed policy of marijuana prohibition in the past,” said Fox. “As states take the lead on reform, the federal government should work with the states, not against them.”
In the absence of federal guidance, Colorado officials have moved briskly on implementing a regulatory framework for marijuana cultivation, distribution and sales. The Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force is expected to issue its final report next week after working for two months to devise recommendations for the state legislature.
Under Amendment 64, the state legislature must pass regulations before adjourning in May. Any proposed taxes on marijuana would need to be referred to the November ballot for approval by the voters.
In their letter, the former drug officials urged senators to ask Holder why he isn’t enforcing the Controlled Substances Act in Colorado and Washington. They also requested that Holder undergo questioning on international treaty obligations that require the United States to enforce laws government the distribution, sale and cultivation of marijuana.
The signers include former drug czars Gen. Barry McCaffrey, John P. Walters, Robert L. DuPont and Carleton E. Turner; and former DEA administrators Robert C. Bonner, Karen Tandy, Asa Hutchinson, Donnie Mitchell, Thomas A. Constantine, Jack Lawn, Francis Mullen, Peter B. Bensinger, and John Bartels.