Yesterday, eight former DEA administrators sent a letter to ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (see it below), encouraging them to quiz U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder about why the Justice Department hasn't cracked down on Colorado and Washington state over their recently passed marijuana laws.
But if the octet hoped to force Holder into announcing federal action before the committee during testimony this morning, they're likely disappointed. Because he didn't.
According to the Seattle Times, chairman Patrick Leahy gave Holder an opportunity to announce the department's intentions at the hearing, but he deferred. He told the senators that Justice types were "still considering" how to react, but said a response would be coming soon.
For those keeping score at home, the "coming soon" line has been used a number of times now, including late last month.
The Washington Times adds that the Justice Department will have to reduce expenses by more than $1 billion due to the sequester cuts that appear to be going through following the passage of a deadline last week. According to the paper, Leahy noted that one area to slash might involve the targeting of small-time pot users. In his words, "I would suggest there are more serious things than minor possession of marijuana."
In the meantime, a number of prominent marijuana activists and organizations have responded to the ex-DEA administrators' letter.
Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, and one of the primary proponents for Amendment 64, which allows adults 21 and over in Colorado, to possess small amounts of marijuana, issued the following statement:
It is not surprising that these ex-heads of the marijuana prohibition industry are taking action to maintain the policies that kept them and their colleagues in business for so long. Their desire to keep marijuana sales in an underground market favors the drug cartels, whereas the laws approved in Colorado and Washington favor legitimate, tax-paying businesses. Marijuana prohibition has failed, and voters are ready to move on and adopt a more sensible approach. It's time for these former marijuana prohibitionists to move on, too.
Adds Marijuana Policy Project national policy director Steve Fox:
President Obama said in December that we need to have a discussion about how to reconcile state and federal marijuana laws. He did so because he understands that the American people, starting with the voters in Colorado and Washington, are ready to put the failed policy of marijuana prohibition in the past. As states take the lead on reform, the federal government should work with the states, not against them. The Cold War-like mentality demonstrated by the former DEA heads is as outdated as the Cold War itself.
Also weighing in is Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Continue for Franklin's take, plus a look at the former DEA administrators' letter. "The war on drugs has been a failure by every measure," says Franklin, a 34-year veteran of Baltimore policing, in a statement. "After more than a trillion dollars spent over the last forty years, we have nothing to show for it except more violence on our streets, the fracturing of community trust in the police and overflowing prison populations. Still, use has not significantly declined. It's unfortunate the DEA heads can't admit this failure. As someone who gave three decades of his life fighting this 'war' on the ground, I can tell you that from that perspective, this policy was dead on arrival."
As we've reported, Colorado is moving ahead with implementation of Amendment 64. A task force has now forwarded its final recommendations to the state's General Assembly, with lawmakers expected to come up with legislation to put the measure into effect by the end of the current session.
Of course, their efforts can be derailed by federal action. But advocates of marijuana reform are hopeful that local actions will reassure Holder that Colorado is moving forward in a thoughtful and responsible manner.
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Not that the authors of the following letter are likely to be placated. Here's what they had to say to Leahy and ranking judiciary committee Republican Chuck Grassley yesterday.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana laws in Colorado, Washington should be nullified, say ex-DEA administrators."