Drug War

Holder Proves Once Again That He Is Not Really in Charge of the Justice Department


At an oversight hearing before the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) asked Attorney General Eric Holder whether it is still Justice Department policy that people who comply with state medical marijuana laws "should not be an enforcement priority." Holder initially responded by focusing on patients, saying, "If in fact people are not using the policy decision that we have made to use marijuana in a way that's not consistent with the state statute, we will not use our limited resources in that way." As I explained in the October issue of Reason, a policy of prosecutorial forbearance that applies only to patients does not amount to any real forbearance at all, since the feds generally do not take on cases involving small amounts of marijuana, regardless of how the drug is used. Making medical marijuana patients a low enforcement priority does not represent a shift in policy and does not mark the Obama administration as any more tolerant than the Bush administration in this area. Polis therefore asked Holder specifically about medical marijuana providers licensed and regulated by the state of Colorado, contrasting them with California dispensaries, which operate in a legal gray area. Noting the ongoing federal crackdown in California, he asked Holder "whether our state regulation…passed with strong bipartisan majorities in both chambers of our legislature, provide[s] any additional protection to Colorado from federal intervention." Holder's response:

I'm not familiar with it, but I'd have to look at it. But again, our thought was that where a state has taken a position, has passed a law, and people are acting in conformity with a law, not abusing the law but acting in conformity with it, and, again, given our limited resources, that would not be an enforcement priority for the Justice Department.

Polis then noted that "legal, regulated medical marijuana shops and dispensaries in Colorado" often have trouble opening bank accounts, because financial institutions worry that they could be implicated in money laundering if the Justice Department treats dispensaries as criminal enterprises. "Is there any intention of the Department of the Justice to prosecute bankers for doing business with licensed and regulated medical marijuana providers in the states?" Polis asked. Holder's response:

If…the people seeking to make the deposits are acting in conformity with state law, that would not, again, be an enforcement policy for the Justice Department.

There are no ironclad guarantees here, of course, because this is all a matter of prosecutorial discretion and could change tomorrow. But since 2009 Holder has consistently said that medical marijuana providers who comply with state law are a low enforcement priority. His underlings, meanwhile, have been contradicting him left and right. As long as dispensaries are "violating federal law," the special agent in charge of the DEA's Denver office said in February 2010, "they're at risk of arrest and imprisonment." Last February, Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco, told Oakland's city attorney, "We will enforce the [Controlled Substances Act] vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law." Last month a spokesman for Andr√© Birotte Jr., the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, summed up the message from federal prosecutors in California this way: "At the end of the day, California law doesn't matter." And neither, apparently, does Eric Holder.

NEXT: Steven Greenhut on Jerry Brown's Failed Plan for California

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  1. It’s not that he’s not in charge, it’s that he doesn’t care. These guys think MJ is a giant joke (see Obama’s response to every question/petition on the matter).

  2. Enforcement priority. Weasel words.

    It’s nice that Polis gives his fellow Democrat the benefit of the doubt, because Holder’s testimony leaves you with nothing but doubt.

  3. Yeah, Eric, let me ask you a real quick question here. How much time would you say you spend each week deaing with these TPS reports?

  4. Just ask him this:

    “Why haven’t you instructed your Department not to enforce federal marijuana laws against any distributor who complies with state marijuana laws?”

    1. Because they don’t want to look weak on the WoD during an election season?

    2. What else would the DEA and FBI do that wasn’t really, really easy? I mean, these dispensaries are operating in the open! They don’t have to do any work and they can raid them. It’s a goldmine!

      1. Think about how much more money they could launder for the cartels if they weren’t busting pot shops in compliance with state laws!

        Does it depress anyone else that SOA is the most realistic depiction of the Feds on TV?

  5. To a statist, this is the most perfect form of government: one where the citizens never know where and when the hammer of government force will fall. Show’s ’em who’s boss, by gum!

  6. Holder needs to be impeached for a laundry list of reasons and what’s worse, I don’t even think this makes top 10 on the list…

  7. He said the Attorney General’s near.

    1. I extend to you this laurel, and hearty handshake.

  8. Just because it’s not an “enforcement priority” doesn’t mean they won’t get around to it. Especially when something is in the news that makes them look foolish. Clinton did this all the time, but usually it involved bombing another country. Obama’s admin is just doing it here in the WoD.

    And Fuck the Polis* for letting Holder get away with these bullshit evasive answers.

    *I was looking for any angle to use that.

  9. Holder Proves Once Again That He Is Not Really in Charge of the Justice Department

    I have suspected for some time that this is the case. Career prosecutors in the field don’t care what policies or directives come down from Holder or Obama, they will continue with business as usual. There’s good money to be made, and no one is going to get fired for busting pot dispensaries.

    1. Do any of these term appointment Cabinet Secretaries actually run their departments, or is it the career civil servants who do the running?

      1. To her credit, Hillary appears to be actually running the State Department. They’ve been almost competent (while often wrong) for the last year or so.

      2. In my experience the DOD tends to follow the instructions to come down through the SECDEF and the various Service Secretaries. There is a good deal of institutional momentum that they can do nothing about, but even at the lowest level their guidance and priorities can be seen.

  10. Is it just me, or is Holder a disingenuous, dissembling fuck?

    1. Am I wrong to wish disemboweled was part of your list?

      1. Not from where I’m sitting.

    2. I’m not familiar with that expression.

  11. Atty General Barbie sez, “Supervizing is HAAAAAAARD!”

  12. It’s a goldmine!

    In more ways than one.

  13. His underlings, meanwhile, have been contradicting him left and right.

    Holder’s only concern is his own skin.

    1. He said the Attorney General’s near!

  14. Has there been an AG in the last 50 years who has not been a prevaricating, Constitution-loathing, power-mad, incompetent weasel? How about the last 100 years?

    1. Certainly you’re not speaking ill of RFK.

      1. You mean the Commie-hunter?

        1. But he was dreamy, and the Tea Party shot him.

    2. I dunno. Maybe Holder is going for the record.

  15. I meant what I said unless that upsets you then I meant something different. However if your not looking then I totally meant what I didn’t mean a minute ago.

  16. “If in fact people are not using the policy decision that we have made to use marijuana in a way that’s not consistent with the state statute, we will not use our limited resources in that way.”

    I have no freakin’ idea what that even means…

    1. It means policy changes. It changes without votes, without warning, even without notice. One day, the policy is not to use their limited resources in that way (read: kicking in doors and seizing your stuff). Tomorrow, it might be.

      Carpe diem.

  17. Eric Holder could have saved himself some time and doubletalk by simply stating the following:

    “Don’t worry. Owning and operating medical marijuana dispensaries isn’t a crime until the DOJ says it is.”

  18. I believe everyone here including the author missed the real communication that occurred between Holder and Polis.

    Polis is to be praised for his deft handling of Holder. There haven’t been raids in Colorado and I suspect, due to Polis’s good work here, there won’t be any in the future. Why?

    Because Holder’s job is on the line over Fast and Furious. Polis’s appearance (at a committee hearing he has no seat on) was his way of letting Holder know that Polis is willing to call for Holder to go if he starts raiding pot shops in Colorado.

    A Democrat joining the over 50 Republicans already calling for Holder to go would be the start of the end for Holder and Holder knows it (as does Polis).

    I’m surprised the California MMJ industry hasn’t figured out this strategy and bought themselves some CA Democrat willing to do the same.

    Polis is a very smart guy and he did Colorado and the industry a big favor here.

    1. Not doubting Polis’ intelligence, but you basically said he’s placing politics over principle. And to put one issue out front because he knows it will help him politically extort the guy into doing things a certain way?

      If people should be calling for Holder’s resignation (or prosecution) over Fast & Furious, that should be a stand-alone issue. Withholding that call to get your way on another issue is as bad as ignoring it altogether, IMO.

      1. Unprincipled, therefore quite likely as an explanation.

        Would you like an AG who was untainted by scandal and gung-ho for the Drug War? That would be worse than a corrupt, self-seeking AG who was trying to maximize his own comfort and job security and therefore open to pressure from the MJ lobby.

  19. Are you an international criminal? And are you wondering if it’s wise to maintain your affiliation to any one of the estimated sixteen currently-active Mexican Drug Cartels? Maybe you should consider the following information very carefully:

    As a gesture of good will vis-a-vis cross-border relations, key members of the American Federal Government have recently pledged a solemn oath, declaring their commitment to encouraging people like yourself to increase performance and productivity. In particular, the United States Department of Justice will guarantee that you achieve a respectable level of technology in both military grade weapons and equipment while actively facilitating the laundering of that swirling cascade of cash that a business like yours invariably and continually generates.

    Still not convinced that during prohibition the phenomenal benefits of remaining an international drug criminal far outweigh the remotely possible, negative consequences? Here’s another recent DOJ announcement, and this time written personally by their principal corporate attorney whose main priority at the moment is to avoid being tried for treason, gun-running, racketeering and murder:

    “For nearly three years, I have been privileged to work closely with many of the most ruthless organizations to the south of our border. I am extremely proud of our record of abuse, fraud, waste, misconduct, and treason and I pledge a continuation of all such policies that will further weaken our national security and compromise all honest efforts of law enforcement.”
    – Attorney General Holder.

    Some people, it appears, have absolutely no problem being simultaneously absurd, and very, very evil.

    Must we wait for a complete economic collapse to regain our unalienable? rights?
    Maybe it’s high time we all stood up and told our government that we’re pooped at being beaten and jailed in order that unconscionable Transnational Corporations, and their Media Enablers, can continue to abuse, addict and poison us for obscene profits?

    “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
    – Friedrich Nietzsche

  20. This is why state & local mmj laws should’ve taken advantage of the provisions of the federal law, by having actual police do the mfg. & dispensing of mmj. That was a tactic that was taken seriously by lawmakers & drug policy wonks 30+ yrs. ago and again ~20 yrs. ago but seems to have been forgotten since. Closest they came to that since was in the late 1990s when a municipally authorized producer in Calif. was retroactively deputized as an enforcement officer, but that didn’t fly with the federal judge. If it was the actual, legitimate police doing it as authorized by the mmj law, however, the feds would have to go along, or else practically all narcotics enforcement would grind to a halt nationwide.

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