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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

October 15, 2012 at 12:46 PM

Ex-DEA chiefs up pressure on Obama to denounce pot legalization measure

A group of former federal drug-policy officials renewed the campaign to have the Obama administration denounce marijuana-legalization measures on the ballot in Washington, Colorado and Oregon.

On a conference call with the media Monday, former DEA administrator Peter Bensinger said his group — including all nine former DEA chiefs — had not received a response to a Sept. 7 letter sent to the Justice Department. Nor had a group of all five former drug czars, who directly asked the White House to publicly oppose the three state measures.

“It’s shocking,” said John Walters, the drug czar during the George W. Bush administration, calling marijuana legalization a “clear and present danger.

Bensinger said federal law would pre-empt state legalization measures, and former DEA administrator Rob Bonner said campaign promises that Washington and other states would reap tax revenue from marijuana sales was a “myth.”

“Quite frankly, no one is going to be reporting and paying taxes to the state if they’re committing a federal felony,” he said.

Initiative 502, on the Nov. 6 Washington ballot, would legalize, tax and regulate sales of marijuana for recreational use. Marijuana would be sold in state-licensed stores. Federal law, of course, bans marijuana use.

The Monday conference call included drug-treatment experts and a representative of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. They predicted I-502 and the similar measures in Colorado and Oregon would result in ballooning drug dependence, more drugged-driving car crashes and reduced work productivity.

“We perceive that legalizing would increase marijuana use, and it would increase the problems,” said Robert DuPont, the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. ” That’s a reason to not go forward.”

When California was considering legalizing marijuana in 2010, the ex-DEA chiefs prompted Attorney General Eric Holder to denounce the measure. Federal authorities would continue to “vigorously enforce” the ban on marijuana, even if California legalized, he said.

Bensinger, when pressed why a similar announcement had not been made in this election cycle, said he didn’t want to comment on the politics of legalization. But others have suggested Colorado’s situation as a swing state in the presidential election may play a role.

As the 50-minute news conference was under way, Initiative 502 released a statement from ex-U.S. Attorneys John McKay and Kate Pflaumer and ex-FBI Seattle chief Charlie Mandigo (all I-502 supporters) — asking the DOJ to remain silent. Voters “ought to be able to exercise the right to vote on their own laws free of intimidating and premature efforts to announce federal enforcement plans and influence the outcome of state elections,” according to the statement.

“Those pressuring the Justice Department to act precipitously are using the same rhetoric and arguments they have used for decades, defending federal policies that have neither ended the illegal trade in marijuana nor alleviated the violence and danger that arises from the black market.”

Comments | More in homepage, Marijuana, Politics Northwest | Topics: drug enforcement administration, initiative 502, marijuana


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