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Marijuana update: U.S. Attorney John Walsh declines to take position on pot-tax measure

Update: Earlier today, we posted about a letter sent to U.S. Attorney John Walsh by attorney Rob Corry on behalf of No on Proposition AA, the campaign opposed to a marijuana tax measure on next month's ballot; see our previous coverage below.

In the missive, Corry asked Walsh to state whether he was for or against Prop AA. Now, a spokesman for Walsh has responded with the announcement that the U.S. Attorney's Office will not take a position one way or the other. See the e-mail in question and new comments from Corry below.

Rob Corry addresses the crowd at the first joint giveaway, last month at Civic Center Park.
Rob Corry addresses the crowd at the first joint giveaway, last month at Civic Center Park.
Photo by Alex Brown

The e-mail comes from U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Jeff Dorschner, who'd earlier declined to comment about the letter owing to limitations placed on him by the ongoing partial federal shutdown.

The note reads as follows:

Dear Mr. Corry,

Thank you for your e-mail to me and your letter to U.S. Attorney John Walsh dated October 9, 2013. In response to your e-mail and letter, the U.S. Attorney's Office does not take a position on state initiatives. However, the Department of Justice has made it clear in recent guidance on marijuana enforcement that there is an overriding importance of a strong and effective state regulatory system with sufficient resources to be effective in practice, not just on paper.

We also respectfully decline the invitation to appear on your cable access television show.

Sincerely,

Jeff Dorschner

Corry's take? "The Oracle of Delphi has again spoken without saying anything," he writes via e-mail.

"Accordingly," he continues, "we are calling on the 'Yes' campaign to cease its representations that a 'Yes' vote on Prop AA protects Colorado in any way from Federal intervention since the Federal government refuses to confirm same.

"Although many in Colorado's pro-freedom community grow weary of scouring indecisive Department of Justice bureaucratic babble for some scintilla of meaning, it would appear that Jeff's comments about a regulatory system 'effective in practice' forecloses a tax rate of over 50 percent, which is ineffective in practice."

Regarding the Yes on Proposition AA campaign, its communication director, Joe Megyesy, told us earlier that its spokespersons have never claimed to have had what Corry calls a backroom deal with the Justice Department. Rather, the campaign has merely pointed toward a reference in a recent memo written by Deputy Attorney General James Cole intended as guidance for jurisdictions establishing marijuana laws that differ from those of the federal government.

Continue to see our previous coverage, including the original letter and memo.   Original post, 10:50 a.m. October 10: Attorney Rob Corry, who leads a group opposed to marijuana-tax measure Proposition AA, has been a headline-generating machine of late. Not only did he co-organize free-joint rallies in Denver and Boulder (not to mention a protest featuring dab buses), but he was arrested for alleged public pot smoking at Coors Field and is the target of a campaign-finance complaint. His latest salvo? A letter asking U.S. Attorney John Walsh to reveal whether he supports or opposes Prop AA. Read it and get details below.

Rob Corry at last month's free-joint rally in Boulder.
Rob Corry at last month's free-joint rally in Boulder.
Photo by Brandon Marshall

In the letter, Corry maintains that the Yes on Proposition AA campaign has made allusions to an agreement with the Justice Department. The pact would allegedly allow backers to imply that the feds tacitly support the measure and might preempt Colorado's marijuana laws if it fails. The entire document is below, but here's an excerpt:

Instead of participating in normal political debate, the "Yes on AA" campaign is running a devious campaign of fear, making threats and representations of "backroom" deals with the U.S. Department of Justice. Statements from the "Yes" campaign include that the U.S. Department of Justice supports a "Yes" vote on Proposition AA, and if Colorado voters decide not to tax ourselves at an unprecedented rate and that Proposition AA were to fail, that the U.S. Department of Justice would retaliate against Colorado voters by dismantling Colorado's marijuana industry with Federal intervention in the form of criminal prosecution and forfeiture of property. Specifically, the "Yes" campaign points to alleged conversations between Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, the Governor's Counsel Jack Findlaw, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and yourself, to the effect that you and the U.S. Department of Justice have made a promise to "allow" Colorado's marijuana industry to exist if Proposition AA passes.

After receiving the letter, we contacted Joe Megyesy, communication director for the Yes on Proposition AA campaign, and he says he's baffled by Corry's assertions.

"I have no idea what he's talking about," he allows, adding, "I don't think anyone in our campaign has claimed we've been in contact with the federal government. The only thing we talk about is the memo to the U.S. Attorneys that was released to the public."

Megyesy is referring to a memorandum written by Deputy Attorney General James Cole and released circa late August in conjunction with an announcement that the Justice Department had decided not to sue in order to stop Amendment 64; that document is here as well. In specific, Megyesy cites this line in regard to the possibility of the feds intervening if Prop AA falls short at the ballot box: "Jurisdictions that have implemented systems that provide for regulation of marijuana activity must provide the necessary resources and demonstrate the willingness to enforce their laws and regulations in a manner that ensures they do not undermine federal enforcement priorities."

Be that as it may, Corry isn't backing down -- and he feels it's important that U.S. Attorney Walsh reveal whether he's for or against Proposition AA.

Continue for more about Proposition AA, including the letter to U.S. Attorney John Walsh and more.  

Corry and other attendees of the Boulder joint-giveaway rally.
Corry and other attendees of the Boulder joint-giveaway rally.
Photo by Brandon Marshall

"What we're doing with this letter is trying to get the Department of Justice's position straight from the Department of Justice, as opposed to guessing at it," Corry says. "John Walsh can tell us if he supports a yes or no vote, and he should, especially since the campaign in favor of Proposition AA has been touting the federal government as its main argument. They're saying the federal government is threatening Colorado voters, and if they vote no, the feds are going to come in.

"I don't think that's the case," Corry adds. "We argue that if the tax is too high, the market becomes dysfunctional, which invites federal intrusion. And the U.S. Attorney is an intelligent man. He understands the basic rules of economics, including that if you tax something at an excessive rate, an underground market automatically rises up -- and we have a ready-made underground market in this case, thanks to seventy years of prohibition."

So...will Walsh weigh in on Proposition AA? U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Jeff Dorschner declined comment not because of the topic, but due to the federal government's ongoing partial shutdown, which places severe limitations on the activities of those still on the job. However, a federal law enforcement source familiar with the department's marijuana policy says it's highly unlikely that the office would take a position on the measure one way or the other.

That's disappointing to Corry. He maintains that there's a precedent for expressing such an opinion -- Attorney General Holder's statement about continuing federal enforcement of marijuana laws prior to the 2010 vote on California's cannabis-centric Proposition 19. And given his contention that Prop AA supporters are suggesting inside knowledge of the Justice Department's views, he thinks Walsh needs to eliminate any ambiguity.

"If some other political movement uses the Department of Justice's name and takes it in vain, if you will, that gives the department added motivation to respond," he says. "Or it should."

Look below to read the letter to U.S. Attorney Walsh and the Cole memo.

No on Proposition AA Campaign Letter to US Attorney John Walsh

Justice Department Memo: Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Did anti-pot-tax group break campaign law with joint giveways?"


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