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November 14, 2011 at 9:40 AM

Former FBI chief in Seattle endorses marijuana legalization initiative

Charlie Mandigo is not a household name, but the former Special Agent in Charge for Seattle’s FBI office is well-known with law enforcement. In his 27-year FBI career, he led investigations against Ahmed Ressam, “Millennium Bomber” caught at Port Angeles, white supremacists in North Idaho and countless drug smuggling cases.

Now retired and in the private sector, Mandigo believes it is time to change course on the 74-year-old federal ban on marijuana and has endorsed a proposed state initiative, I-502, which would legalize small amounts of marijuana and regulate sales in state-run pot stores. Mandigo describes drug laws as “discretionary” public policy that are too expensive and carry to many unintended consequences.

In a statement, Mandigo writes:

There is no question the time has come when government must curtail discretionary programs. If the resources were available, continued enforcement of criminal laws for possession and use of small amounts of marijuana might be a discretionary function of government. But we have gone beyond the point where the resources are available or there is a justifiable cost-benefit to society. There must be an end to sacred cows.

Mandigo joins a growing group of retired federal law enforcement to endorse the New Approach campaign attempting to send I-502 to the state Legislature in January. Former U.S. Attorney for Seattle Kate Pflaumer, a Clinton appointee, joined a successor in that office, John McKay, a George W. Bush appointee, as a New Approach sponsor over the weekend.

In an interview, Mandigo said he endorsed the measure because of New Approach’s conservative approach to marijuana regulation. The complex, 64-page initiative would not strip away police authority for drug smuggling or street-level dealing, and keeps the existing ban on marijuana possession for persons under 21. ” I’m not aware of any case I worked on that this law would have changed,” he said. He said he does not condone the use of illegal drugs.

But he believes it’s time to have a frank discussion about the costs of marijuana enforcement. “Governments, local, state and federal, need to sit down and be realistic about what money they have, and what do they want to spend it on. This is one that law enforcement can sit down and decide if we want to spend money on. Just because they can spend money on (marijuana enforcement), it doesn’t mean we should.”

Mandigo, a Cornell graduate, served as congressional liaison to former FBI director Louis Freeh, and understands the politics of drug enforcement well. He, like McKay, said if I-502 passes, it would not unravel the federal-state conflict. “Should I-502 pass, it doesn’t give anyone automatic immunity. But it makes a very strong political statement that a consensus of opinion.”

According to the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, other former federal law enforcement officials who have come out for marijuana legalization include former Illinois U.S. Attorney Thomas Sullivan; the former head of the FBI’s Jacksonville, Fla., office, Mike Kahoe, and senior federal judge John L. Kane of Denver.

If I-502 gathers enough signatures – as expected – it will go to the 2012 state Legislature, where lawmakers can pass it or kick it to the November 2012 general election.

 

Comments | More in Government, The Blotter | Topics: Election 2012, FBI, Legislature

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