Voters in Colorado and Washington approved measures last November that would tax and regulate cannabis. On August 29, the Department of Justice announced, “Based on assurances that those states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system, the Department has informed the governors of both states that it is deferring its right to challenge their legalization laws at this time.” Further, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole sent a memo to all United States Attorneys explaining the DOJ’s stance.
Not only have two States essentially nullified federal cannabis laws, the federal government is supporting the nullification. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy praised the new guidelines, “All the more in a time when federal resources are especially scarce, the Justice Department should focus on countering and prosecuting violent crime, while respecting the will of the states whose people have voted to legalize small amounts of marijuana for personal and medical use.”
Last year, President Obama said, “We’ve got bigger fish to fry. It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper weighed in, “We recognize how difficult this issue has been for the Department of Justice and we appreciate the thoughtful approach it has taken. Amendment 64 put Colorado in conflict with federal law. Today’s announcement shows the federal government is respecting the will of Colorado voters.”
While the Governors of Colorado and Washington may be pleased with the DOJ’s announcement, a coalition of Sheriffs, Chiefs of Police and narcotics officers sent a letter to Eric Holder. The letter begins, “On behalf of the undersigned national law enforcement organizations, we write to express our extreme disappointment that the U.S. Department of Justice does not intend to challenge [cannabis] policies in Colorado or Washington …” The letter goes on to regurgitate propaganda about the supposed dangers of cannabis and reasons why prohibition should remain intact. “Furthermore,” the letter continues, “it is unacceptable that the Department of Justice did not consult our organizations – whose members will be directly impacted – for meaningful input ahead of this important decision. ” The coalition also unintentionally encourages other states to nullify federal cannabis laws, “The failure of the Federal government to act in this matter is an open invitation to other states to legalize marijuana in defiance of federal law. ”
It should come as no surprise that this coalition would oppose the DOJ policy. Law enforcement has the most to lose when prohibition is finally repealed. They claim the laws are “for the good of the community” but they actually mean the laws bring in a lot of revenue for their departments. With civil asset forfeiture laws in place, a law enforcement officer can have almost any piece of property seized on the mere allegation that it is connected to the commission of a crime (usually a drug crime), even if the owner is never charged with a crime.
This coalition, as law enforcement is wont to do, ignores the fact that when prohibition of substances is lifted, the number of users decreases. In Portugal, after a decade of drug decriminalization, the number of addicts has declined by nearly half, and drug related diseases and overdoses have been reduced even more. Sadly, law enforcement would rather support their own interests than do what’s best for the society they claim to serve and protect.