Colorado anti-pot legalization group asks AG Holder for support

When campaigning for the U.S. Senate two years ago, Republican candidate Ken Buck said medical marijuana was a states’ rights issue.

Today he is the public face of Smart Colorado, a group campaigning in opposition to Amendment 64, which would effectively legalize marijuana use by adults in Colorado.

Before Buck came on board with the organization, Smart Colorado sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to help in the campaign against 64. That letter first came to light in a Denver Post article published Wednesday.

In the letter, attorney Jonathan Anderson quotes a Holder memo on a similar legalization effort that failed in California. Holder wrote that if California legalized marijuana, the drug would nevertheless remain illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act and that his agents would continue to vigorously enforce that law.

Buck, campaigning for the Senate in 2010, said the feds should stay out of Colorado’s business when it comes to medical marijuana.

From the Centennial Citizen
, March 31, 2010:

When asked for his views on the complicated legal issues surrounding the medicinal use of marijuana, as permitted in the Colorado Constitution, Buck emphasized states’ rights.

“If the State of Colorado decides it wants to legalize marijuana, the marijuana is grown in Colorado, it is distributed in Colorado, it is used in Colorado, it is none of the federal government’s business what happens here,” [Ken Buck] said. “The federal government needs to understand what the 10th Amendment says.”

Legalization advocates are demanding Buck clarify his stance. Now that he’s effectively a spokesman for the Smart Colorado anti-legalization effort, does he believe the feds have jurisdiction in the matter?

“We are simply asking Mr. Buck to stand behind what he told Colorado voters during his statewide campaign in 2010 – making marijuana legal in Colorado is ‘none of the federal government’s business.’ His very clear statement directly conflicts with the letter his group sent to the U.S. Attorney General, asking that they get directly involved in Colorado’s marijuana policy decisions. We hope Mr. Buck will disavow this letter or explain his sudden change of position,” wrote Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Spokesperson Betty Aldworth in a press release.

She continued, “We are pleased that District Attorney Buck is among the many thousands of Coloradans who believe the state should be able to exercise its right to regulate marijuana like alcohol without federal interference. We sincerely hope he will stand up for his beliefs and disassociate himself from the letter sent by his campaign, as well as refrain from working with federal officials to dictate marijuana policy in Colorado.”

Buck, reached by phone, said there is no contradiction between his remarks in 2010 and Smart Colorado’s letter to Holder.

In 2010, he said, he was referring specifically to medical marijuana, not general legalization and that Smart Colorado in its letter was simply asking Holder to state his position on Colorado potentially legalizing marijuana.

“We are not asking him to step in and stop the election, stop people from voting,” he said. “As we debate whether this is a good measure, the opinion of Attorney General Holder is important.”

He said that as a law enforcement official, Holder’s experience with marijuana may be similar to his own.

“My opinion is based on the traffic accidents I’ve been to, and the parents that I’ve talked to.”

The Smart Colorado letter to Holder:

May 11, 2012

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General of the United States
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Re: Colorado Legalization of Marijuana Initiative

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

In November 2012 Colorado voters will consider Amendment 64, a statewide initiative that would make it lawful for any adult to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational use. Colorado’s Amendment 64 parallels California’s Proposition 19, which was defeated by voters in 2010. The Department of Justice, under your leadership, aggressively opposed Proposition 19.

This law firm represents Smart Colorado, an Issue Committee formed by citizens who strongly oppose Amendment 64. The Department of Justice’s serious concerns with California’s Proposition 19 appear to equally apply to Colorado’s proposed Amendment 64. Smart Colorado formally requests that the Department of Justice take a position opposing Amendment 64 as soon as possible so that Colorado voters can consider the Department of Justice’s critical stance on this type of initiative.

We commend the Department of Justice public opposition to California’s Proposition 19. As you stated in an October 13, 2010 memorandum to DEA Administrators: “Let me state clearly that the Department of Justice strongly opposes Proposition 19. If passed, this legislation will greatly complicate federal drug enforcement efforts to the detriment of our citizens”. In November 2010 you also noted that if California voters were to approve Proposition 19, the Department of Justice would “vigorously enforce the CSA against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture, or distribute marijuana for recreational use, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”

The U.S. Department of Justice’s opposition to state initiatives legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes is consistent with the position taken by President Obama’s Administration. The President’s 2011 National Drug Control Strategy established clear opposition to proposals such as Amendment 64: “The Administration steadfastly opposes drug legalization. Legalization runs counter to a public health control because it would increase the availability of drugs, reduce their price, undermine prevention activities, hinder recovery support efforts, and pose a significant health and safety risk to all Americans, especially our youth.” The President’s 2012 National Drug Control Strategy affirms the White House’s opposition to the legalization of marijuana: “Legalization of drugs will not be considered in this approach. Making drugs more available and more accessible will not reduce drug use and its adverse consequences for public health and safety.”

It is important to note that while Colorado’s Amendment 64 is identical to California’s Proposition 19, in that both initiatives authorize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational use, Amendment 64 actually goes much further than Proposition 19. Amendment 64 does not place any limitation on the amount of marijuana that can be grown, transported, or offered for retail sale within the state. Even California’s Proposition 19 placed limits on the amount of marijuana that could be grown, transported and sold by retail sale. In other words, Amendment 64 would authorize an unrestricted marijuana growing and distribution center in the middle of the United States.

Colorado citizens are well informed voters who will value the U.S. Department of Justice’s input on this measure. It is critical that Colorado voters understand that: 1) Amendment 64 will squarely conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”); 2) this legal conflict will likely result in protracted and costly litigation between the State of Colorado and the federal government; and 3) there would be significant negative health and safety implications if Amendment 64 were allowed to become law. In sum, Amendment 64 is illegal under federal law and such (sic)

As you know, Colorado has the most expansive medical marijuana industry in the country. To further expand their drug profits, this industry will invest enormous sums of money to erase all state restrictions on growing, transporting, and selling marijuana in Colorado. It is critical that Colorado voters understand the serious legal and policy implications of passing such a dangerous law. We believe that, as U.S. Attorney General, you are in the best position to effectively communicate these critical facts to Colorado voters prior to Colorado’s November 2012 election. We respectfully request that the U.S. Department of Justice take a public position on Colorado’s Amendment 64 as soon as possible so that voters can understand the full ramifications of this state constitutional initiative.

Jonathan M. Anderson
Counsel to Smart Colorado Issue Committee

“The letter sent to the attorney general is not seeking federal intervention, rather, it seeks an opinion from the Department of Justice that Amendment 64 is inconsistent with the federal government’s position on the possession of marijuana,” said Smart Colorado spokesperson Roger Sherman by email.

“The Justice Department was very clear about its opposition in California’s Proposition 19 and we want to understand if their position has changed. In that light, the letter is absolutely appropriate.

“It’s unfortunate that the proponents of Amendment 64 are using political tactics to detract from the real debate about how this harmful, addictive drug will impact our children if legalized.”

Mason Tvert, leader of the pro 64 group, was disdainful of Sherman’s public safety arguments.

“If our opponents’ concern is teen access to marijuana, we do not understand why they would want to keep it in an underground market where it is far more available and completely uncontrolled. If we want to reduce access, we need to regulate it, put it behind the counter, and require proof of age,” Tvert said.

Image of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder by ryanjreilly, via Flickr.

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