Former DEA Heads Urge Justice Department to Block Historic Marijuana Regulation Implementation in Colorado and Washington

Press Release March 4, 2013
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Ethan Nadelmann 646-335-2240</p>

For the second time in six months, former DEA heads have collaborated to urge Attorney General Eric Holder to oppose state-level efforts to tax and regulate marijuana. Today, they sent a letter to Holder calling on him to block implementation of new laws in Colorado and Washington. Holder will appear tomorrow before a U.S. Senate judiciary committee hearing.

The ex-DEA directors sent a similar letter to Holder back in September, urging him to speak out against the marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, as he had done before the California legalization initiative in October 2010.  The White House and attorney general chose instead to remain silent, allowing citizens in those states to vote without the threat of federal obstruction.  Both initiatives won with approximately 55% of the vote, exceeding President Obama’s margin of victory in Colorado as well as the margins of victory by the candidates for governor and attorney general in Washington State.

“The former DEA chiefs’ statement can best be seen as a self-interested plea to validate the costly and failed policies they championed but that Americans are now rejecting at the ballot box,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “They obviously find it hard to admit that – at least with respect to marijuana – their legacy will be much the same as a previous generation of agents who once worked for the federal Bureau of Prohibition enforcing the nation’s alcohol prohibition laws.”

State officials, citizens and activists are hopeful that the Obama administration will do its best to allow the two states to implement the new laws responsibly.  In December, President Obama commented on the marijuana legalization votes in Colorado and Washington – framing the conflict between federal and state law as a question to be resolved and stating that people who use marijuana in states that have legalized it should not be a "top priority" for federal law enforcement. Obama said that the federal government has “bigger fish to fry.”

“President Obama and Attorney General Holder really need to allow Washington and Colorado officials to implement the new laws in ways that protect public safety and health while respecting the will of those states’ voters,” said Ethan Nadelmann.  “At this point, insisting on blind obeisance to strict interpretation of federal drug laws will only serve the interests of criminals who want to keep this industry underground and law enforcement officials who want to justify their legacy.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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