A controversial ballot initiative that would have made California the first state to legalize recreational marijuana will not pass, CNN projected early Wednesday morning, averting a major battle between federal and state officials.
With 20 percent of precincts reporting, Proposition 19 is poised to fail with 56 percent of voters against the measure that would have permitted the possession, sale and distribution of pot in the state. Attorney General Eric Holder and every former Drug Enforcement Administration chief came out against the measure.
Holder said in October that the possible legalization of marijuana would not stop the federal prosecution of individuals who possess or distribute the drug.
The Attorney General wrote in an Oct. 13 letter to former DEA administrators that the Justice Department is considering “all available legal and policy options” if Proposition 19 became state law. He said the approval of the measure “would significantly undermine” efforts to keep communities safe.
Voters in South Dakota, Arizona and Oregon on Tuesday also considered marijuana initiatives.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, the South Dakota initiative that would have legalized medicinal pot did not pass with 64 percent of voters opposing the measure, according to CNN.
Projected results on the Arizona and Oregon measures were not immediately available.
With 72 percent of precincts reporting, voters are equally divided on the Arizona measure that would sanction medical marijuana, according to CNN. The Oregon measure that would allow state-licensed dispensaries to distribute already legal medical marijuana in the state will likely fall short, according to the Associated Press. But the ultimate fate of the Oregon initiative is uncertain.
D.C. and 14 states already allow the use of the drug for medicinal purposes.
Holder 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.
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.
A group of every former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration is urging Attorney General Eric Holder to oppose a ballot initiative that would make California the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use.
Peter Bensinger, who served in the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter administrations, said during a news conference Monday that California’s Proposition 19 is a “disaster waiting to happen.” Proposition 19 would permit the possession, sale and distribution of marijuana in the state if California voters endorse the ballot initiative in November.
Bensinger and the eight other former DEA administrators who led the agency since its inception in 1973 penned an Aug. 24 letter to Holder, saying the enactment of Proposition 19 would conflict with federal law. They wrote that that Supremacy Clause of the Constitution prohibits the legalization of marijuana because the drug is illegal under U.S. federal law.
“All of us are gravely concerned about Proposition 19,” Bensinger said Monday at the National Press Club in D.C.
A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Main Justice. Bensinger said he has not received a “direct comment” from the DOJ either. But DOJ opposition to the ballot initiative should be a “no-brainer,” he said.
The DOJ under Holder, however, has turned a mostly blind eye to some uses of the drug.
The Attorney General said last year that the prosecution of seriously ill people who smoke marijuana in states where medicinal use is legal is not a top priority. D.C. and 14 states allow medicinal marijuana use.
Supporters of Proposition 19 have said the legalization of recreational marijuana would help California lower its mounting budget deficit. The state would be able to collect taxes and fees from marijuana sales.
Robert Bonner, a DEA administrator from the George H.W. Bush administration, said the suggestion that Proposition 19 would help the cash-strapped state is a “cruel hoax.”
“In reality, it is highly unlikely that any taxes will be paid, for to do so would admit a criminal violation of federal law and expose the seller to federal prosecution,” Bonner said in a statement. “The proponents of Prop 19 either know that no taxes are going to be raised by the State of California or they are smoking something.”
DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler issued the following statement:
“The federal government is committed to enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act and the Department of Justice will continue to focus its enforcement resources on significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, in all states. It is premature to speculate what steps we would take in the event that California passes its ballot measure.”
A man dressed as George Washington and a small gang of hemp fans protested outside the Justice Department Wednesday, asking Attorney General Eric Holder to allow United States farmers to grow the fiber cultivated from Cannabis plants.
Fewer than ten — who arrived in a van powered by waste vegetable oil and hemp oil — gathered as part of Hemp History Week.
Since 1937, when marijuana was classified as a narcotic drug, U.S. farmers have been effectively banned from growing the plant. But before then, hemp was a stable crop of many American farmers and several former Presidents, including Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, grew the plant.
Earlier this week, the North Dakota Speaker of the House, David Monson, brought a lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration, arguing that there have been unreasonable delays to his 2007 application to grow industrial hemp.
Holder said in October that the prosecution of medical marijuana users was not a priority for the Justice Department.
For more on Hemp History Week, see this NBC story.
Four Colorado state lawmakers have sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to stop raids on the state’s medical marijuana industry, The Denver Post reports.
In October 2009, the Justice Department said medical marijuana prosecutions against seriously ill people are not a Justice Department priority, although federal law still prohibits all marijuana use.
In the letter, the lawmakers — state Sens. Chris Romer (D) and Nancy Spence (R) and state Reps. Beth McCann (D) and Tom Massey (R) — asked the Attorney General to halt the raids while they draft legislation that would govern the state’s medical marijuana industry. The four lawmakers also wrote that they continue to support federal prosecution of illicit drug operations.
The full text is available via a Denver blog:
Dear Attorney General Holder, As you know, the Colorado General Assembly is currently considering several bills designed to establish a legal framework to effectively regulate medical marijuana. Federal DEA raids of medical marijuana businesses, however, are complicating our legislative efforts.
While we realize it is unrealistic — and frankly unwise — to ask the Justice Department to suspend investigation or prosecution of those engaged in the trafficking and distribution of “recreational” marijuana, we hope you will consider imposing a moratorium on medical marijuana sector raids. These raids discourage dispensary operators, caregivers, growers and patients from providing testimony or recommendations to state lawmakers, hampering our ability to develop a workable and realistic regulatory arrangement for medical marijuana.
Again, we strongly support the efforts of state and federal law enforcement as they investigate, arrest, and prosecute the violent gangs and other criminal enterprises engaged in the illegitimate importation, production, and distribution of black market drugs. However, we believe it is a mistake to put the activities of the legitimate medical marijuana community in the same category as these criminal conglomerates.
We appreciate the Administration’s recognition of the very complex waters we are attempting to navigate between the Colorado Constitution and federal drug policy, and ask for your patience as we attempt to find that rational middle ground.
Thank you in advance for your assistance, and we look forward to hearing from you.
Cc: President Barack Obama
Governor Bill Ritter, Jr.
Attorney General John Suthers
US Attorney David M. Gaouette
Resident Agent in Charge Tom Gorman, DEA
Special Agent Jeffrey Sweetin, DEA
Senate President Brandon Shaffer
Senator Joshua Penry
Senator John Morse
Speaker Terrance Carroll
Representative Paul Weissmann
Representative Mike May
The total amount of marijuana seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration nearly doubled from 1,539 metric tons in fiscal 2008 to 2,980 metric tons in last year.
The numbers were disclosed as part of the DEA’s budget request for fiscal 2011.
A spokesman for the DEA declined to elaborate on the reason for such a dramatic rise in seizures of marijuana.
“Several factors play into this number and in any given year the amount of drugs seized by DEA can fluctuate,” said spokesman David Ausiello.
Aaron Houston, the director of government relations of the Marijuana Policy Project, a lobbying group that advocates the legalization of marijuana, said he suspected the increase was a result of drug seizures from cartels.
Despite Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that targeting individual users of cannabis for medical purposes was no longer a priority, the DEA budget request spoke dismissively of the benefits of medical marijuana, even placing the word patients in quotation marks.
“DEA does not investigate or target individual ‘patients’ who use cannabis, but instead the drug trafficking organizations involved in marijuana trafficking,” the request stated.
Houston applauded the Obama administration for its decision to stop raiding medical marijuana facilities in states that allow the practice. But said Houston, “on the rest of their drug policy, they’re on Bush administration auto-pilot.”
The DEA request said that there has been no Food and Drug Administration research that shows the benefits of medical marijuana. But the DEA has blocked such research from taking place, according to Houston. Just a few days before Obama was sworn into office, Houston said, the DEA refused to grant approval for a University of Massachusetts Amherst study into medical marijuana.
“It’s pretty cynical for DEA to claim on the one hand that we have to wait for the science to come in, and with the other hand literally block that research from happening,” said Houston.
The DEA’s full budget request is available on the Justice Department’s Web site.