A California ballot initiative known as Proposition 19 (Prop 19), which would legalize possession and distribution of small amounts of marijuana if passed, is facing a strong resistance from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder who has promised to "vigorously enforce" federal laws that ban possession and distribution of marijuana even if they are allowed under any state law.
According to Holder, the Obama administration strongly opposes legalization of the recreational use of marijuana and warned that passage of Prop 19 would "greatly complicate federal drug enforcement efforts to the detriment of our citizens."
In a letter addressed to former chiefs of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Holder said the federal government will "vigorously enforce the (Controlled Substances 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 said Prop 19, which bars "state and local law enforcement from seizing marijuana that is in compliance with state law" if passed, would hamper the federal government's efforts in controlling drug trafficking and arresting "drug traffickers who frequently distribute marijuana alongside cocaine and other controlled substances."
If Prop 19 becomes a law, the Justice Department will consider "all available legal and policy options," Holder said.
The letter was in reply to former heads of the agency who had expressed "grave concern" about California's new measure.
Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske has also warned that the measure is an affront to federal authority. "It's a duty and responsibility of government. It's not something where they can say which laws they want to enforce and which they don't," Kerlikowske told The Associated Press in an interview.
Incidentally, California had faced similar opposition from the Justice Department under President George Bush, when it became the first state to decriminalize medicinal use of the drug in 1996. The Obama administration, however, supports medicinal use of marijuana and has assured that federal attorneys would no longer prosecute patients who use marijuana, or dispensaries that distribute it, for medical reasons in states where it has been legalized.
About Proposition 19
Proposition 19 is a Californian initiative, which lets people age 21 or older legally possess as much as an ounce of marijuana and even grow it in a space of up to 25 square feet for personal use. The measure, if passed, would authorize county and city governments to regulate and tax commercial cultivation and sales of the drug. The California state legislature has estimated that taxing domestically grown marijuana (a previously untaxed $14 billion industry) would bring in $1.4 billion a year.
Legalization of marijuana, according to supporters, would end a hypocritical and racially disproportionate ban on a drug that is less harmful than alcohol besides reducing drug trafficking problems, saving law enforcement costs, raising new tax revenue, and making it harder for kids to get marijuana. The backers of Prop. 19 include the NAACP; the Drug Policy Alliance; the American Civil Liberties Union; the California Young Democrats; the Republican Liberty Caucus; the California Council of Churches; Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; several big labor unions; actor Danny Glover; singer Melissa Etheridge; actor/comedian Hal Sparks; former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson; Oaksterdam University President and Prop. 19 proponent Richard Lee; and former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders.
Opponents of Prop. 19, however, claim the measure would threaten public safety, violate federal law and drug-free workplace rules, allow a patchwork of different regulations, and wouldn't raise much, if any, tax revenue. Those critics include Mothers Against Drunk Driving; U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; the California League of Cities; the California State Association of Counties; most law and drug enforcement groups; all major-party candidates for governor; and most school boards and business groups.
Several media polls, including the Los Angeles/USC poll, show that over 50 percent of Californians would vote against the measure when it is put to vote on November 2. However, supporters of Prop. 19 have questioned the accuracy of the polls.