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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Unlike in 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder Stays Silent on Marijuana Legalization

Posted By on Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 6:35 AM


Scapegoats were readily available when California voters missed their chance to live in the first state to legalize marijuana for adults in 2010. While some blamed the medical marijuana supporters who opposed Proposition 19 -- which led some in some pre-election polls, at 52 percent -- there was also interference from Washington.

It was Attorney General Eric Holder who delivered Tax and Control Cannabis' October surprise. At the request of former heads of the DEA, Holder issued to an overeager California (Oakland was preparing to license and tax 100,000-square-foot grow facilities) a letter promising federal law outlawing cannabis would be "vigorously enforced." The subsequent chilling effort killed Prop. 19's momentum and sent it to defeat, 52 percent to 47 percent (a better showing than Meg Whitman, but still).

Now, two years later, three states will try do to what California couldn't. In response to the legalization efforts on the ballot in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, the same former DEA heads wrote to Holder again, asking him to warn off legalization a second time. But as of midnight Tuesday, cannabis advocates note, the attorney general's stayed mum. 

Why the silence at a crucial hour, with arguably more -- such as the presidency -- at stake?

Holder warned California governments like Oakland's that the feds "will vigorously enforce the Controlled Substance Act against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture or distribute marijuana for recreational use, even if such activities are permitted under state law."

Holder's October 2010 letter preceded his office's nationwide crackdown on state-legal cannabis, but it took a while. United States attorneys in California, Colorado, Washington, Montana, and other states began issuing shutdown notices to cannabis dispensaries in September 2011. More than a dozen dispensaries in the Bay Area and hundreds statewide have been shuttered by federal pressure.

About all U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag has said on the matter is that state medical marijuana law, as well as any legalization measure, violates the federal Controlled Substances Act. And so would Colorado's Amendment 64, Washington's I-502, and Oregon's Measure 80.

Lanny Swerdlow, a registered nurse in Riverside County and founder of the Brownie Mary Democratic Club (named after the late San Francisco legend who brought baked treats around the AIDS ward in San Francisco General Hospital) pointed out that in Colorado, Amendment 64 is winning at the polls and out-polling President Barack Obama. As Gary Johnson can tell you, Colorado hangs in the balance, and cannabis-minded voters could easily tip the state one way or the other.

And then there's the "second term" theory. This summer, GQ was the first to report that Obama was planning to go liberal on drug policy after the election. This would be news to some Californians like Steve DeAngelo, CEO of Oakland's Harborside Health Center. The biggest dispensary in the nation is the subject of Haag's latest closure efforts, this one an actual forfeiture action filed against the property owner who rents to Oakland's second biggest taxpayer. The hearing on this case has also been delayed until after the election.

Cannabis: too hot to handle. With an election on the line.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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