Marijuana: Why ex-drug warriors hate Amendment 64, other drug initiatives

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Former drug czars, DEA administrators and national "addiction experts" have come out in opposition to Colorado's Amendment 64, as well as similar measures before voters in Washington and Oregon.

In other wildly-unexpected news: The sky is, indeed, blue.

William Bennett and John Walters, both former directors of the White House Office of National Drug Policy (under George Bush and George W. Bush, respectively) head the loose-knit group. Last month, they sent letters to both President Barrack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging them to take a public stance on Oregon's Measure 80, Washington's Initiative 502 and Colorado's Amendment 64. All three would legalize limited amounts of cannabis for adult use. In Colorado, Amendment 64 would also allow for the creation of retail cannabis shops whose products would be taxed and regulated in ways similar to alcohol.

The group isn't really asking for anything else in their letters. They merely remind President Barrack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder that marijuana is illegal at the federal level as defined by the Controlled Substances Act, and argue that by remaining silent, the two are conveying "to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives".

On Monday, the group held a virtual teleconference cheekily-dubbed "What are they Smoking?" We missed the press conference because we were busy smoking cannabis, but we assume the conference went something like this:

Talking head: "Blah blah blah, marijuana is bad."

Talking head two: "Blah blah blah, federal laws are in conflict with state legalization."

Talking head three: "Blah blah blah, blah blah blah."

Feel free to make the rest of the conversation up in your head based on the last forty years of rhetoric from the war on drugs: It probably wouldn't be be far off from what really transpired. Our friends over at the Huffington Post did get a few quotes (as well as comment from Amendment 64 proponent Mason Tvert), and they are exactly what you would imagine them to be. If you really are a glutton for punishment, you can listen to the .mp3 of the conference on the TrueCompassion.org site.

Continue to read the group's letters to President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder opposing cannabis measures in Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Letter to President Barack Obama:

September 17, 2012

The Honorable Barack H. Obama President of the United States of America The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As former Directors of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, we are writing to express our deep concern about efforts this November that would legalize marijuana in three states. Amendment 64 in Colorado, Measure 80 in Oregon, and Initiative 502 in Washington would legalize the production, possession and sale of marijuana, and in some cases industrial hemp, in direct violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The CSA itself states specifically that if a conflict with state law exists, the CSA takes precedence. Given the language of these three initiatives, in which case state governments would be collecting tax dollars on the use of a controlled substance, a clear violation of federal law exists.

Additionally, the United States would be in clear and direct violation of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) and other international treaties ratified by Congress. The consequences of this violation could be a United Nations sanction whereby the United States could see its export or import of controlled substances for medical and scientific research purposes stopped. The United Nations has followed closely the evolution of drug policy in this regard.

We are strongly encouraged by your Administration's position against drug legalization generally, as laid out in your inaugural National Drug Control Strategy (2010).

But we are concerned that the non-discussion of current marijuana legalization efforts, specifically Amendment 64 in Colorado, Initiative 502 in Washington, and Measure 80 in Oregon, is sending a message that you and your Administration are indifferent to the legalization issue.

We stand united against any efforts, as seen with the above-referenced ballot initiatives, to legalize marijuana or any other currently illegal substances and urge you to respond to this letter expressing unequivocal opposition to marijuana legalization generally and these initiatives specifically. We offer our help in standing with you and your senior officials in this important task.

Your staff can reach all of us through Mrs. Calvina Fay, Executive Director, Drug Free America Foundation, Inc., 5999 Central Avenue, Suite 301, St. Petersburg, Florida 33710, who has coordinated this correspondence for us. As you know, action must be taken quickly to meet this danger.


William Bennett

Robert Martinez

Lee P. Brown

Gen. Barry McCaffrey (Ret.)

John P. Walters

cc: The Honorable Eric Holder The Honorable Cecilia Muñoz Attorney General of the United States Executive Office of the President 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW Domestic Policy Council Washington, DC 20530-0001 Washington, DC 20503

The Honorable R. Gil Kerlikowske The Honorable Susan Rice Executive Office of the President Ambassador to the United Nations Office of National Drug Control Policy U.S. Mission to the United Nations 750 17th Street, NW 799 United Nations Plaza Washington, DC 20503 New York, NY 10017

Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder:

September 7, 2012

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr. Attorney General of the United States Department of Justice 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder:

We are former Administrators of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration who are once again writing you in 2012 to express our concern about state-level efforts to legalize marijuana, specifically Amendment 64 in Colorado, Initiative 502 in Washington, and Measure 80 in Oregon. All three of these initiatives would legalize the production, possession and sale of marijuana, in direct violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). As stated in our letter to you on August 24, 2010, the CSA clearly states that federal law trumps state laws when there is a conflict.

Since these initiatives would "tax and regulate" marijuana, there is a clear and direct conflict with federal law.

We were encouraged by your stance against Proposition 19 in California, and by the President's clear public statements, most recently at the Summit of the Americas, when he remarked that "legalization is not something I or my administration supports."

We urge you to oppose publicly Amendment 64 in Colorado, Initiative 502 in Washington, and Measure 80 in Oregon. To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives.

We would be happy to meet with you on this matter. Regardless, we urge you to take a public position on these initiatives as soon as possible. We look forward to hearing from you.


The above individuals served as Administrators of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, from 1973 to 2007 under both Democratic and Republican Administrations.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Amendment 64's opponents want new ad pulled, backers respond" and "Ten things near schools more dangerous than medical marijuana dispensaries."

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