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Former DEA Administrators Express Concerns About Marijuana Legalization to Attorney General Holder

January 28, 2014 | National News

Schenectady, NY – Nine former DEA Administrators recently sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder over concerns about the U.S. Department of Justice’s “decision to allow the states of Colorado and Washington to legalize the production and sale of marihuana for ‘recreational use’”. The letter continues, “The United States promoted and signed a treaty – the 1961 Single Convention on Drugs – to adopt measures that will ensure that cultivation, manufacture, possession, offering for sale on any terms whatsoever shall be punishable offenses. The treaty is specific to marijuana and disallows trade in marijuana among private parties. The President of the International Narcotic Control Board has already called on the United States to enforce the law and treaty in all of its territories.”

The DEA Administrators go on to say, “In fact, in January 2013, a Federal Appeals Court in Washington, DC affirmed that DEA’s placing marijuana in Schedule I (an illegal status) of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) was entirely appropriate. How can you now allow two states to legalize marijuana in direct conflict with law enacted by Congress, particularly when the state laws frustrate the purpose of federal law? How can our country’s law enforcement agencies expect to disrupt the most significant international cartels which deal in marijuana, cocaine and heroin? They are poly-drug organizations.”

One of the signatories to that letter is former DEA Administrator Thomas A. Constantine who also served as Superintendent of the New York State Police and is a member of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police.

Constantine gave perspective on events leading to the joint letter. “In August 2010 several of us (DEA Administrators) sent our concerns to the Attorney General about California’s Proposition 19 which was a referendum on marihuana. On October 13, 2010, the Attorney General said he strongly opposed Proposition 19. On September 7, 2012, a group of us - former DEA Administrators - sent a letter to the Attorney General citing our concerns. We had concerns in three areas. First, we were seeing a growing and well-funded movement in some states toward legalization of marihuana. These campaigns were being successful, and we feared that once marihuana was legalized that other controlled substances would follow. Our next concern was that the Administration was strangely silent on drugs. Other Administrations had been very strong on both messaging and enforcement. Messaging is important. Tom Hedrick who was in charge of research at Johnson and Johnson said something to me that made a profound impact. He said that when government sends a strong philosophical message on drugs and what can happen to people, they listen. We know that the age group of 12-19 years is very vulnerable. We need to ask ourselves, ‘what is the message from our government?’ If we say that marijuana is dangerous, that its use has negative consequences, and that there are sanctions for its use, possession and manufacture, there will be a substantial reduction in use by teenagers. If we send a mixed message or no message at all, the corollary is a spike in usage.

The DEA Administrators say that great harm will be done in Colorado and Washington and throughout the country with the legalization of marijuana. Their letter says, “There will be an increase of marijuana used by minors, since adults in these states will be able to purchase marijuana legally, without fear of arrest, and they will give it or sell it to minors. Gangs and cartels will take advantage of the disregard for marijuana enforcement in Colorado and Washington and they will expand their poly-drug operations in those states. Diversion of “medical marijuana” from Colorado has already been documented in 23 other states. When marijuana will be fully legal to buy, diversion of the drug will explode. Highway crashes and fatalities will increase. Research has documented that marijuana use doubles the risk of a motor vehicle crash. School attendance and performance, as well as workplace productivity and safety, will all be negatively affected by your decision, and so will the effectiveness of drug law enforcement efforts.”

Constantine continued, “Our third concern was about the political atmosphere at the time. Part of the reason the DEA Administrators sent the August 2010 letter was because one month prior, Arizona was going to enact legislation for local enforcement of federal immigration law. This created issues about the ability of local government to supersede federal law and federal enforcement. Although the issue at the time was immigration, we wanted the same message to counter the wave of legalization that was occurring. Then in 2012, the states of Washington and Colorado were in the process of legalizing marihuana for certain uses which was why we sent the September 2012 letter to remind him. We never received a reply. Then out of the blue, we saw the directive issued by the Deputy Attorney General on August 29, 2013 (titled, Guidance Regarding Marihuana Enforcement). Our letter of September 9, 2013 followed in which we expressed our dismay.

The DEA Administrators were not the only group to take issue with the position of the Attorney General’s Office. A jointly signed letter to Attorney General Holder on August 30, 2013 by leaders of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Sheriffs’ Association, Major Cities Chiefs and National Narcotics Officers Association said, “The conclusion that can be drawn from these facts is that relaxed marijuana policies lead to clear and foreseeable negative consequences for communities and families.” The group also said, “Marijuana is illegal under federal law and should remain that way. While we certainly understand that discretion plays a role in decisions to prosecute individual cases, the failure of the Department of Justice to challenge state policies that clearly contradict federal law is both unacceptable and unprecedented. 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.”

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Article courtesy of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police and former DEA Administrator Thomas A. Constantine.