Former DEA-Heads Say Holder Should Sue States Over Marijuana

As U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder continues to say that the Department of Justice is looking at all their options in how they will handle pot legalization in Washington and Colorado, ex-DEA chiefs are calling on him to act quickly or risk marijuana chaos in those states and more to come.

Attorney General Eric HolderThe eight former DEA chiefs are speaking through the Florida-based organization Save Our Society from Drugs. They say that Holder and the federal government are running out of time to sue the states and they are insinuating that a lack of action will lead to the pot-head-apocalypse, where everyone is using marijuana and running wild in the streets.

“My fear is that the Justice Department will do what they are doing now: do nothing and say nothing,’’ said former DEA official Peter Bensinger. And to do nothing, he says, will pave the way for more states to legalize marijuana too.

They say the Obama administration is moving too slowly and that the issue is a “no brainer”, that federal law trumps state law and there should be no delay on the part of the Department of Justice. “It is outrageous that a lawsuit hasn’t been filed in federal court yet,” said Bensinger.

This little group of former DEA officials aren’t the only ones calling on the feds to do something. The International Narcotics Control Board (part of the U.N.) has similarly asked for swift action. But, swiftness doesn’t seem to be Holder’s strong point.

Last month he told state attorney generals that his review was winding down. A spokesperson for the DOJ last week said the department was still reviewing the initiatives and had nothing new to add.

Because marijuana is against federal law, Holder could elect to sue the states in which legalization has passed. Advocates of marijuana legalization say that the federal government needs to change their law, however, not the other way around.

As for those DEA chiefs, they are the people who helped craft and make the Drug War what it is today, so we can’t be surprised that they see legalization as a bad move.

“The former DEA chief’s statement can best be seen as a self-interested plea to validate the costly and failed policies they championed but that Americans are now rejecting at the ballot box,” said Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance.

As we wait to see how the federal government will handle state legalization measures, Colorado and Washington busy themselves with regulating their new revenue generator. There are practical issues of both commerce and public safety (Marijuana DUI) to work through, while other states look at how they might be able to do the same thing in coming years.


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Elizabeth Renter is a freelance writer and editor who writes about criminal justice issues.

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  • Theodore Chu

    Reclassification of marijuana to Schedule V is the only thing that makes sense now. It’s hard to admit that your life’s work was both ineffective and unjustified so or course these former DEA heads would take this position. But we need to move forward without them.