Marijuana: Law enforcers join legislators in asking feds to back off Amendment 64

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Eighteen legislators have signed a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to respect voters in Washington and Colorado, a majority of whom opted for marijuana reform exemplified by the latter's Amendment 64. Today, members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) followed suit, delivering their own letter to Holder; see it below. We asked retired Denver cop Tony Ryan, who signed the letter, to weigh in on its message, and that sent by those who supported A64. As you'll recall, Ryan, who now makes his home in South Dakota, is a 36-year Denver Police Department veteran. He earned a slew of awards during his years on the force, including the DPD Medal of Honor, the Merit Award (for being a first responder to the Columbine High School shooting), the Community Service Award and the Footprinter's Award. In addition, he was given the department's Purple Heart after being shot in the line of duty. But once he spoke out in favor of Amendment 64 at a September LEAP event at the State Capitol, Roger Sherman, director of Smart Colorado, the No on 64 campaign, dismissed him as a "pro-pot rent-a-cop" -- a description described by A64 proponent Mason Tvert as a smear.

Today, Ryan shrugs off this alleged insult as "less significant that it was to start with, which was pretty insignificant in my book. When people start making that kind of noise, it's usually because they're losing the battle."

Following this dust-up, Ryan went on to star in an Amendment 64 TV ad that aired frequently in the run-up to the election. Here it is:

The subsequent victory of Amendment 64 was especially satisfying for Ryan.

"I'm proud of the people of Colorado," he notes. "They stood up and said, 'Let's do something real with the problem of drugs. Let's stand up and do something different' -- and that's what they did with marijuana."

Despite the vote, however, a potential shadow hangs over implementation of the measure. Amendment 64's text contradicts with federal drug policy, and while experts believe there's little the Obama administration can do to undermine the decision to remove criminal penalties for adult possession of an ounce or less of cannabis, many fear the feds will act to prevent the establishment of a retail sales system. Hence, the LEAP letter to Holder, which offers him "an invitation to help return our profession to the principles that made us enter law enforcement in the first place," by concentrating on serious/violent crime and allowing Colorado and Washington to set their own marijuana policies.

This soft-sell approach is reiterated by Ryan

Continue to read more of our interview with Tony Ryan and to see the LEAP letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. "In my mind, the purpose of the letter is to simply ask and suggest to the federal enforcement people what we've been saying in Colorado -- that local police have better things to do," Ryan maintains. "We're saying that considering the number of states with medical marijuana laws, and these two states that want to find ways of controlling marijuana instead of using federal statutes, perhaps they should concentrate their efforts on other things and wait to see how these things turn out."

Not that he thinks the march toward marijuana policy change nationwide is at an end.

"This is how the beginning of the end of alcohol prohibition started -- individual states said, 'This doesn't work. It costs too much and is more damaging than the problem it was trying to solve.'

"The constitutional amendment to prohibit alcohol led to the birth of the mobs, and the violence and the fighting over who's going to control the black market and make huge profits off it. A whole new generation of crime was created, and people finally decided, 'Enough of this.' And so, state by state, they said, 'We're not going to do this anymore.'"

Here's the LEAP letter to Attorney General Holder.

November 20, 2012

The Honorable Eric Holder Attorney General of the United States U.S. Department of Justice 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Mr. Attorney General and Our Colleagues in the Department of Justice,

As fellow law enforcement and criminal justice professionals we respectfully call upon you to respect and abide by the democratically enacted laws to regulate marijuana in Colorado and Washington. This is not a challenge to you, but an invitation -- an invitation to help return our profession to the principles that made us enter law enforcement in the first place.

We went into law enforcement, despite its long hours and constant frustrations, because we wanted to serve our communities. We wanted to save people, to protect them, and there are few more selfless and noble callings on this earth. But the second we overthrow the will of the people, we fail to live up to the promise of that calling.

The great American political writings upon which this country was founded were based in John Locke's concept of the social contract, which recognizes that the authority of police, and of all government, is derived from the people. And the people have spoken. To disregard the fact is to undermine the legitimacy of the ideas for which our forefathers fought and died.

This is not merely an academic argument. August Vollmer, father of professional policing and primary author of the Wickersham Commission report that served to bring an end to the prohibition of alcohol, opposed the enforcement of drug laws, saying that they "engender disrespect both for law and for the agents of law enforcement." His words ring as true today as they did in 1929. After 40 years of the drug war, people no longer look upon law enforcement as heroes but as people to be feared. This is particularly true in poor neighborhoods and in those of people of color, and it impacts our ability to fight real crime.

One day the decision you are about to make about whether or not to respect the people's will may well come to be the one for which you are known. The war on marijuana has contributed to tens of thousands of deaths both here and south of the border, it has empowered and expanded criminal networks and it has destroyed the mutual feeling of respect once enjoyed between citizens and police. It has not, however, reduced the supply or the demand of the drug and has only served to further alienate - through arrest and imprisonment -- those who consume it.

At every crucial moment in history, there comes a time when those who derive their power from the public trust forge a new path by disavowing their expected function in the name of the greater good. This is your moment. As fellow officers who have seen the destruction the war on marijuana has wrought on our communities, on our police forces, on our lives, we hope that you will join us in seeking a better world.


Executive Director Stanford "Neill" Franklin, Baltimore, MD Retired State Police Major (34 years law enforcement experience)

Board and Advisory Board Members

Jack A. Cole, Medford, MA Retired Police Detective Lieutenant, New Jersey State (26 years)

Peter Christ, Syracuse, NY Retired Police Captain (20 years)

Stephen Downing, Los Angeles, CA Retired Deputy Chief of Police (20 years)

James E. Gierach, Chicago, IL Former Drug Prosecutor (12 years)

Leigh Maddox, Esq., Baltimore, MD Retired Police Captain (17 years)

Joseph McNamara, Stanford, CA Retired Chief of Police, Kansas City, MO and San Jose, CA (35 years)

Terry Nelson, Granbury, TX Retired Customs and Border Protection Aviation/Marine Group Supervisor in Texas, Florida and Latin America (32 years)

Tony Ryan, Sioux Falls, SD Retired Lieutenant Police Officer, Denver PD (36 years)

Richard Van Wickler, Stoddard, NH Superintendent, Department of Corrections (25 years)


MacKenzie Allen, Santa Fe, NM Former Master Police Officer and Drug Detective in Seattle and Los Angeles (15 years)

Daniel-Paul Alva, Philadelphia, PA Former Assistant District Attorney (2 years)

John Amabile, Brockton, MA Former Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General (4 years)

James Anthony, Oakland, CA Former Community Prosecutor (3 years)

Dean Becker, Houston, TX Former Air Force Security Police Officer (3 years)

Nate Bradley, Sheridan, CA Former Deputy Sheriff, Wheatland PD (5 years)

Arnold J. "Jim" Byron, Burlington, WA Retired United States Customs Inspector in Minnesota and Washington State (31 years)

Jerry Cameron, Saint Augustine, FL Retired Chief of Police (17 years)

George T. Cole, Chicago, IL Retired Senior Special Agent (26 years)

Beth Comery, Providence, RI Former Police Officer (5 years)

William John Cox, Long Beach, CA Retired Police Officer and Prosecutor in Los Angeles and San Diego (40 years)

Richard F. Craig, Travelers Rest, SC Former Lieutenant Police Officer, Rockland, MA PD (33 years)

Tim Datig, Egg Harbor, NJ Retired Police Chief, St. Aldans Police Department, Vermont (28 years)

John Delaney, Bryan, TX Retired District Court Judge, State of Texas (29 years)

Det. David Doddridge, St. George, UT Retired Military Police Officer and Narcotics Detective, LAPD (21 years)

James A. Doherty, Seattle, WA Former Corrections Officer and Prosecutor (7 years)

Sean Dunagan, Washington, DC Former DEA Senior Intelligence Research Specialist (13 years)

Richard E. Erickson, Lakeport, CA Retired Patrolman (22 years)

Jay Fleming, Mohave Valley, AZ Former Narcotics Investigator, Spokane, WA (15 years)

Shelley Fox-Loken, Portland, OR Retired Probation & Parole Officer (19 years)

Leonard I. Frieling, Boulder, CO Former Judge (8 years)

Michael J. Gilbert, Ph. D., San Antonio, TX Former Corrections Practitioner (12 years)

Diane M. Goldstein, Santa Ana, CA Retired Lieutenant Police Officer (21 years)

Judge James P. Gray, Santa Ana, CA Retired Superior Court Judge (32 years)

Jamie Haase, Greenville, SC Former Special Agent and Customs Inspector, Baltimore and Laredo (10 years)

Karen E. Hawkes, Boston, MA Retired State Trooper, First Class (13 years)

Patrick Heintz, Agawam, MA Retired Correctional Officer/Counselor (20 years)

Wesley E. Johnson, J.D., Tulsa, OK Former Police Officer (5 years)

Russell Jones, New Braunfels, TX Former Narcotics Detective (10 years)

Jeff Kaufman, New York, NY Former Police Officer, Special Assignment (8 years)

Kyle Kazan, Long Beach, CA Retired Police Officer (5 years)

Leo E. Laurence, J.D., San Diego, CA Former Deputy Sheriff

David M. Long, J.D., San Francisco, CA Former Special Agent in Florida and California (9 years)

John Lorenzo, Southbury, CT Retired Chief of Marine Police (20 years)

Paul R. MacLean, Concord, NH Retired State Trooper (20 years)

Sean McAllister, Denver, CO Former Assistant Attorney General of Colorado (3 years)

M. P. McCally, Renton, WA Former Probation Counselor (7 years)

James W.F.E. Mooney, Washington County, UT Retired Former Narcotics Undercover Agent and Corrections Official (10 Years)

Peter Moskos, New York, NY Former Baltimore City Police Officer (2 years)

Richard D. Newton, Aviation Interdiction Agent, El Paso, TX Retired US Customs & Border Protection in Florida, Puerto Rico and elsewhere (30 years)

Patrick K. Nightingale, Esquire, Pittsburgh, PA Former Assistant District Attorney (6 years)

James J. Nolan - Morgantown, WV Former Police Lieutenant and FBI Unit Chief, Wilmington, DE (13 years)

Nick Novello, Dallas, TX Police Officer (30 years)

John O' Brien, Fullerton, CA Former Sheriff, Genessee County, MI (12 years)

Chad Padgett, Walton, IN Former Correctional Officer (6 years)

James S. Peet, Ph.D., CFE, Sumner, WA Former National Park Service Ranger, Police Officer, Alexandria, VA (6 years)

Titus Peterson, Denver, CO Former Deputy District Attorney (5 years)

Howard L. Rahtz, Cincinnatti, OH Retired Police Captain (30 years)

Richard Renfro, Detroit, MI Retired Special Agent/Financial Criminal Investigator/Supervisor (25 years)

Charles M. Rowland II, Beavercreek, OH Former Special Prosecutor (3 years)

Bob Scott, Franklin, NC Retired Executive Officer (15 years)

Dwayne Sessom, Lawton, OK Former Deputy Sheriff (3 years)

Carol Ruth Silver, San Francisco, CA Retired Sheriff's Department Prisoner Legal Services Director (1 year)

Ethan Simon, Albuquerque, NM Former Assistant District Attorney (6 years)

Norm Stamper, Seattle, WA Retired Chief of Police, San Diego and Seattle (34 years)

Eric E. Sterling, Washington, DC Former Counsel to the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary (10 years)

Thomas P. Sullivan, Chicago, IL Former U.S. Attorney (4 years)

Betty Taylor, St. Louis, MO Former Police Chief, Winfield PD (7 years)

Jason Thomas, Denver, CO Former Detention Officer and Deputy Marshall (2 years)

John Tommasi, Durham, NH Retired Police Sergeant (37 years)

Kyle Vogt, Port St. Lucie, FL Former Military Police Officer (4 years)

Richard K. Watkins, Ed. D., Huntsville, TX Retired Senior Prison Warden (20 years)

Rusty White, Bridgeport, TX Former Correctional Officer, Arizona State (7 years)

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Eighteen legislators ask feds to respect Colorado's Amendment 64."

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.