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October 20, 2012

Deputy AG Cole says federal prohibition to be enforced regardless of pot legalization initiatives

This new Reuters article, headlined "U.S. stance on marijuana unchanged by legalization votes: official," reports on new (and not very surprising) comments from a Justice Department official about state marijuana initiatives. Here are excerpts:

A top Justice Department official has told "60 Minutes" the federal government is ready to combat any "dangers" of state-sanctioned recreational pot, amid criticism of the Obama administration for its relative silence on legalization drives in three states.

Voters in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon are set to vote on November 6 on whether to legalize and tax marijuana sales, raising the possibility of a showdown with the federal government, which views pot as an illegal narcotic.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole, in comments to "60 Minutes" posted on Saturday to the website of CBS affiliate KCNC-TV in Denver, said his office's stance on pot would be "the same as it's always been" if voters approved legalization.

"We're going to take a look at whether or not there are dangers to the community from the sale of marijuana and we're going to go after those dangers," Cole told "60 Minutes" in an outtake from a report on Colorado's medical marijuana industry due to air on Sunday, according to the CBS affiliate.

Cole's statement is an indication the federal government, which has raided medical pot dispensaries in several of the 17 states that allow cannabis as medicine, could also take aim at state-sanctioned recreational marijuana.

It also represents a break with the Obama administration's relative silence about the pot referendums, which has led to uncertainty about whether federal officials would stop states from taxing and regulating sales of pot in special stores to those 21 and older, as proposed under each of the three state initiatives before voters....

In 2010, Holder issued a toughly worded letter that said his office "strongly" opposed the California proposal and would "vigorously enforce" drug laws against participants in the recreational pot trade, even if state law permitted it. Holder's statement is credited with helping to convince some California voters to reject the proposal.

"Compared to what they did two years ago in California, to have their federal posture be essentially a wait-and-see approach is encouraging," said Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance, which through affiliates has funded marijuana legalization campaigns.

Polls show the American public is increasingly leaning toward legalizing pot, but no state has taken that step. Nadelmann said pot legalization is popular with young people and independents, two groups of voters crucial to President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, and that his administration is "being smart in basically not weighing in at this time."

Some recent and older related posts:

UPDATE: The "60 minutes" segment from which this story emerges will be broadcast on Sunday, October 21, and here is a link to a preview, which provides this introductory paragraph:

Colorado's thriving medical marijuana business isn't just named for the color of today's green, potent pot. It's the color of the money being made in the medical marijuana industry.  Steve Kroft goes to the Rocky Mountain state to report on a business that's legal there and 16 other states, but in the eyes of the federal government is still as illegal as dealers selling heroin or LSD.  "Rocky Mountain High" will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7:00 p.m. PT.

October 20, 2012 at 11:16 PM | Permalink


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"We're going to take a look at whether or not there are dangers to the community from the sale of marijuana"

Seems like we should have done that BEFORE we spent a trillion dollars fighting a destructive and futile war on marijuana.

Posted by: C.E. | Oct 21, 2012 3:26:52 PM

One danger is that the government will become addicted to the revenues. Colorado made $20 million in taxes, according to the 60 Minutes piece. Prices were still very high. It did not say if marijuana was covered by Medicaid or other pharmacy benefits plans.

The DOJ spokesperson was reasonable. He wants to prevent people from buying bales of Colorado smoke and selling it elsewhere, mob takeovers of the business, leave alone people complying with state licensing and regulation. One reason is that no jury in Colorado would allow the conviction of a cancer patient for using marijuana.

Prohibition does not work if the public does not support it.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 22, 2012 6:45:25 AM

"... fighting a destructive and futile war on marijuana."

Not futile if one had a government make work job from it for many years.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 22, 2012 6:48:17 AM

The "dangers" were deemed present by the legislature. I personally along with many others don't deem such "dangers" worthy of federal prosecution, particularly if the state itself doesn't think so. Medicinal use in particular. But, with all the caveats regarding prosecutoral discretion and choice in use of limited resources (a major power that makes who is in charge of importance), bottom line, Congress passed a law here. At some point, the fact the executive gives at least lip service that it still is the law is not shocking.

Paul Ryan says he thinks states have the right to pass local option laws. Maybe he or his buddies in Congress, including the Tea Party who is so anti-central governmental power (somewhat selectively) can join with others to make an exception of some sort for states that have lax marijuana laws. Maybe, the Yankees will go to the WS later this month because they will get a "do over."

Posted by: Joe | Oct 22, 2012 9:53:28 AM

To me, it seems that big government is finally starting to realize that (or maybe not) that it's job is not to simply pass obscene laws covering everything from what you ingest to who/how you have sex with...
Ruling the country with an iron fist is not what the Constitution was based on. In fact, if you take a biblical perspective, I believe the states were meant to be apportioned a certain amount of control as to how to govern the citizenry while the government worked through the states (remember Moses?)...
However, over time (and probably following the farce that enabled the creating of the IRS) big government has drawn more and more power unto itself and is loathe to share it...
I doubt anybody in Washington has noticed this but it's my guess that this trend is how most aristocracies started over the centuries. And (I'm sure they missed this one), most of those didn't end well. In fact, the mere truth that they "ended" says much for where this country is headed...

Posted by: NJ45143-112 | Oct 22, 2012 10:59:53 AM

Joe --

If the state itself decided to make (or keep) pot illegal, as California did when the voters defeated Prop 19, will you then accept the state's anti-pot law? It seems to me that you'd have to: You can't very well campaign for state power, only to reverse field if the state exercises that power in a way you disagree with.

In other words, if it's a question of state sovereignty, then, to be consistent, you can't back out in those instances, but only those instances, where the sovereignty goes against you. If you want to reserve the right to back out, then we'll know that all this talk about power to the states was just a dodge.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 22, 2012 12:04:45 PM

It's not a dodge, Bill. It's a level of harm thing. It not being the only thing I was resting on is suggested by my use of "particularly." It helps the case, it doesn't necessarily win all on its own. Ideally, marijuana would be treated akin to tobacco or alcohol nation-wide. Also, something like medicinal marijuana should be seen as a right.

But, that's not going to happen & that isn't how things work. Things work by a state by state movement. And, at the minimum, more state discretion follows constitutional principles of federalism. It is a reasonable path that has support from those who might oppose legalizing marijuana in the first place. As seen by O'Connor's dissenting opinion in Gonzalez v. Raich. A truly free ability to have local option will also show how things work w/o federal prosecution.

It is akin to those who wanted the 18th Amendment overturned but when it went back to the states, they pushed for legalization. Both was ideal, the first was particularly important.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 22, 2012 4:43:28 PM

Where is this world going?http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdPlezbdLEg

Posted by: davidjohn | Feb 12, 2013 4:18:13 AM

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