Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the U.S. government will “vigorously enforce” federal law against marijuana if California voters elect to legalize the drug next month.
In a letter to former administrators of the DEA, Holder stated that the Department of Justice “strongly opposes Proposition 19.”
“If passed, this legislation will greatly complicate federal drug enforcement efforts to the detriment of our citizens,” Holder wrote. “Regardless of the passage of this or similar legislation, the Department of Justice will remain firmly committed to enforcing the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in all states.”
The letter was released at a press conference Friday morning at the L.A. Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau. Sheriff Lee Baca said that his deputies will work with federal authorities to continue to pursue marijuana violations even if Prop. 19 passes.
District Attorney Steve Cooley, who is running for attorney general, said that if he is elected and Prop. 19 passes, he will likely advise law enforcement agencies that the initiative is unconstitutional.
In response, the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-19 advocacy group, argued in a press release that the voters will get to decide state law.
“There is nothing in the United States Constitution that requires the state of California to criminalize anything under state law,” said Stephen Gutwillig, the group's California director. “If California decides to legalize marijuana through the passage of Proposition 19, nothing in the Constitution stands in the way.”
While marijuana will continue to be illegal on the federal level, Gutwillig predicted that the U.S. government will not have the resources to pursue marijuana violations at the local level.
L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich also appeared at the morning press conference, where he argued that Prop. 19 is “exactly what the cartels need.” In fact, according to a recent Rand Corp. study, Prop. 19 would drive Mexican cartels out of the California market, cutting into their profits by around 2-4 percent.
If the federal government does not take steps to prevent interstate smuggling, then California-grown pot could dominate the entire U.S. market, cutting cartel profits up to 23%.
On Thursday, Trutanich wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, asking the Department of Justice to seek an injunction to prevent Prop. 19 from going into effect. Trutanich also asked whether the federal government would withhold federal funding from the city for “any reason arising out of enactment of Proposition 19, such as for an alleged failure to meet our drug-free workplace obligations.”
In Holder's letter, which is dated Wednesday, the attorney general does not go into such specifics. He does say, however, that the DOJ “is considering all available legal and policy options in the event Proposition 19 is enacted.”