Attorney General Eric Holder said approval of the California ballot measure that would legalize marijuana would not stop the federal prosecution of individuals who possess or distribute the drug, the Associated Press reported Friday.
Holder wrote in a letter to former heads of the Drug Enforcement Administration that he is firmly against Proposition 19, which would permit the possession, sale and distribution of marijuana in the state if California voters endorse the ballot initiative in November. Every ex-DEA chief urged Holder in September to oppose the ballot initiative that would make California the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use.
The Attorney General wrote that the Justice Department is reviewing “all available legal and policy options” if Proposition 19 becomes state law. He said the approval of the ballot measure “would significantly undermine” efforts to keep communities safe.
“Let me clearly state that the Justice Department strongly opposes Proposition 19,” Holder wrote in the Oct. 13 letter. “If passed, the legislation will greatly complicate federal drug enforcement efforts to the detriment of our citizens.”
Former DEA Administrator Peter Bensinger, who served in the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter administrations, praised Holder for his commitment to enforcing federal drug laws.
“This is important to protect the families, children, communities and businesses not only in California, but in other states and foreign countries who may be wondering where the U.S. government stands,” Bensinger said in a statement.
But the Attorney General said last year that the prosecution of seriously ill people who smoke pot in states where medicinal use is legal is not a top priority. D.C. and 14 states allow medicinal marijuana use.
This story has been updated.