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Marijuana laws in Colorado, Washington should be nullified, say ex-DEA administrators

Tomorrow, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee -- and eight ex-heads of the Drug Enforcement Administration suggest that members ask him why the hell he hasn't brought the hammer down on Colorado and Washington state for their respective pot laws. That's the message of a letter on view below. It was released today under the banner of an organization that was by far the largest funder of failed efforts to derail Amendment 64, which allows adults 21 and over to use and possess small amounts of marijuana.

The letter doesn't list a single author, but the designated promoter appears to be Peter Bensinger, who fronted the DEA from 1976 to 1981 and has served in the administrations of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. It's addressed to senators Patrick Leahy and Chuck Grassley, the senior Democrat and Republican on the judiciary committee, and features the signatures of Bensinger and seven other previous DEA administrators, plus assorted officials, including General Barry McCaffrey, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy's director under Bill Clinton.

Paragraph one sets the tone. It reads:

We, the undersigned, strongly support the continued enforcement of federal law prohibiting the cultivation, distribution, sale, possession, and use of marijuana -- a dangerous and addictive drug which already has severe harmful effects on American society.

From there, the missive quotes from Holder's October 13, 2010 response to an earlier letter from the DEA administrators, this one prompted by Proposition 19, a California marijuana-legalization measure that fell short at the ballot box. Just before its big vote, Holder stressed that if Prop. 19 was approved, the Justice Department would continue to enforce the Controlled Substance Act, which calls for "the prosecution of those who manufacture, distribute, or possess any illegal drugs -- including marijuana."

Holder didn't issue a similar declaration prior to the November 2012 election, and in the time since then, he hasn't ordered a federal crackdown in Colorado or Washington -- and the DEA veterans want to know why. They suggest that Leahy and Grassley ask Holder the following questions: "Why isn't the Department of Justice enforcing the Controlled Substances Act in Colorado and Washington?," and "What is being done to honor our international drug control treaty obligations, which require the United States as a nation to enforce the law prohibiting the distribution, sale and cultivation of marijuana?"

The letter also mentions a pre-election study by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area that attempted to prove marijuana from Colorado is being diverted to other states across the country, thereby making what many here see as a local issue into a national problem.

As for the document's letterhead, it features the logo of Save Our Society From Drugs, a Florida-based outfit that provided the lion's share of cash given to No on 64, the group that unsuccessfully rallied opposition to Colorado's marijuana measure. Here's a graphic from a post about Amendment 64 spending published last September.

Marijuana laws in Colorado, Washington should be nullified, say ex-DEA administrators

Despite many may perceive as its noble purposes, Save Our Society From Drugs carries some baggage.

Continue for more about the latest call for federal nullification of Amendment 64, including the former DEA administrators' letter.

Mel Sembler.
Mel Sembler.

A 2012 article from The Nation sported the vivid headline "GOP Mogul Behind Drug Rehab 'Torture' Centers Is Bankrolling Opposition to Pot Legalization in Colorado." Here's an excerpt from writer Lee Fang's piece, which focuses on the group's driving forces, Mel and Betty Sembler:

The Semblers have been waging a war on marijuana for decades.

Before they led Save Our Society from Drugs, and its sister nonprofit, the Drug Free America Foundation, the Semblers were at the helm of STRAIGHT, Inc., which operated drug abuse treatment centers, mostly for teenagers, from 1976 through 1993.

Former clients of the rehab center recount episodes of brutal beatings, rape and systematic psychological abuse.

At one facility in Yorba Linda, California, state investigators found that STRAIGHT Inc. subjected children to "unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threats, mental abuse...and interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping and toileting." Samantha Monroe, who was placed into a STRAIGHT Inc clinic in Tampa at age 13, says she was locked in a room, and forced to wear a clothes stained with urine, feces and menstrual blood -- a punishment her counselors called "humble pants."

Richard Bradbury, a former STRAIGHT patient and counselor-turned-whistleblower, told the St. Petersburg Times that Monroe's experiences weren't unique. "It was pure child abuse," Bradbury told reporters. "Torture."

By the way, Mel Sembler was a big financial supporter of Mitt Romney.

As for Holder, he said late last month that a decision about a federal response to the Colorado and Washington pot laws would be announced relatively soon. No telling at this point whether he'll choose tomorrow's judiciary committee meeting as the venue for dispensing this information. But Bensinger and company, not to mention the Semblers, are doing their best to point him in their direction.

Here's the complete letter:

DEA Administrators Marijuana Law Nullification Letter

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana report proves Colorado MMJ being illegally diverted, advocate says."