Former DEA Heads Push Holder to Oppose State Marijuana Initiatives

A group of former Drug Enforcement Administration officials is urging Attorney General Eric Holder to publicly oppose three state ballot measures that propose legalization of marijuana. In a letter obtained by Reuters, nine former heads of the DEA said Holder’s silence “conveys to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance” of initiatives in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon that they call “dangerous.”

Washington state’s ballot initiative is supported by former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington John McKay and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. McKay, who said he regrets his prosecution of pot activist Marc Emery, called marijuana prohibition a “complete failure” and a “threat to public safety”:

The black market fuels the cartels, and that’s what allows them to buy the guns they use to kill people. A lot of Americans smoke pot, and they’re willing to pay for it. I think prohibition is a dumb policy, and there are a lot of line federal prosecutors who share the view that the policy is suspect.

In Colorado, a recent Rasmussen poll showed that 61 percent of likely state voters favor of regulating marijuana the way alcohol and cigarettes are regulated. And Mason Tvert, who is leading Colorado’s Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, urged Holder not to subvert the growing public support for legalization:

For Eric Holder to act as the mouthpiece for these old school warriors of the irrational war on marijuana that is rapidly losing public support would be sending a message to tens of thousands of passionate supporters of Amendment 64 that their opinions do not matter. He will be telling them that Colorado must continue to live under a system of marijuana prohibition not because it makes sense, but because the federal government demands it.

The NAACP’s regional chapter has also endorsed Colorado’s Amendment 64, citing the disproportionate impact the drug war has had on the African American community.


The NAACP-Colorado-Montana-Wyoming State Conference reported that African Americans made up more than 31.5 percent of arrests for marijuana possession in Denver, even though they comprise only 11 percent of the population. The disparities are similarly stark statewide. In 2010, the California branch of the NAACP also supported that state’s ballot measure.

Thus far, Holder has said little about the ballot measures. But in 2010, Holder opposed a similar California measure to legalize marijuana, which failed with 53.5 percent voting against the initiative. Since then, the Department of Justice has taken a tougher approach to prosecuting dispensaries of medical marijuana — now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia — cracking down on even those dispensaries that are in in full compliance with state law.