During a Wednesday House oversight hearing with Attorney General Eric Holder that overwhelmingly focused on the invasive government search of Associated Press phone logs and the IRS, one House member took the opportunity to grill Holder on another Department of Justice issue that has provoked criticism from the left. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) tore into Holder over his approach to marijuana, asking why his Justice Department is “continuing to put people in jail,” even as polling shows a majority of Americans believe the plant should not be illegal:
One of the greatest threats to liberty has been the government taking people’s liberty for things that people are in favor of. The Pew Research Group shows that 52 percent of people do not think marijuana should be illegal. And yet there are people in jail, and your Justice Department is continuing to put people in jail, for sale, and use, on occasion, of marijuana. That’s something the American public has finally caught up with. It was a cultural lag. And it’s been an injustice for 40 years in this country to take people’s liberty for something that was similar to alcohol. You have continued what is allowing the Mexican cartels power, and the power to make money, ruin Mexico, hurt our country by having a Prohibition in the late 20th and 21st century. We saw it didn’t work in this country in the 20s. We remedied it. This is the time to remedy this Prohibition, and I would hope you would do so.
In addition to the majority support for decriminalizing marijuana cited by Cohen, an even greater proportion of Americans say they think the United States is losing the so-called “War on Drugs” and that states should be allowed to decide whether marijuana is legal.
Holder said shortly after two states passed ballot initiatives to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana that he would announce a DOJ policy on a federal response. But six months later, his only answer has been that he expects an announcement “relatively soon.” Regional federal officials, meanwhile, have re-upped crackdowns on medical marijuana dispensaries, sending threat letters to dispensaries in several cities in Washington and California. And what started as a Drug Enforcement Administration crackdown has now developed into new DOJ action by regional U.S. attorneys. Just this month, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag filed federal forfeiture actions to seize the real estate that houses two Bay Area medical marijuana dispensaries seemingly in compliance with state and local laws, including the largest dispensary in Berkeley and another dispensary that serves the Mission region of San Francisco. Haag has filed a similar action against the largest U.S. dispensary with locations in Oakland and San Jose, suggesting a strategy to hamper the industry by targeting the largest players.