Just Say Now and Eric Sterling tell DEA Drug Warriors top get real

Just Say Now Responds to DEA Hysteria on Prop 19

By: Jane Hamsher Monday September 13, 2010 9:02 am

Nine former DEA heads held a press conference this morning to promote their letter to Eric Holder, asking the Justice Department to intervene and challenge Prop 19 if it passes (PDF).  They claim that since the Justice Department moved so quickly to oppose the Arizona immigration law, it’s their obligation to do the same here.

The fact is that the DEA ignored Eric Holder’s directive, issued last year, to respect state medical marijuana laws.   Just last week, they raided 5 medical marijuana centers in Las Vegas.  The DEA will do what it wants, regardless of what Eric Holder does, and these people know it.  This looks like nothing so much as a blatantly political attempt to needle Holder (and Obama) and throw some gasoline on the already volatile Arizona situation.

The fact is that these 9 people shoulder a huge chunk of the blame for the utter and complete failure of the war on drugs that has made the situation on the Arizona border so critical.  It’s quite shameless that they’d make things even worse by demagoguing the immigration law in this fashion, but it’s symptomatic of a wasteful and counterproductive bureaucracy trying to protect its power — and its enormous budget.

The letter says:

[W]e note that the Department of Justice acted quickly to assert the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause in its recent suit to declare null and void certain provisions of an immigration bill passed by the state of Arizona.  We would expect the Department of Justice to act just as swiftly and for the same reason to uphold the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the preemption provision of the CSA to prevent Proposition 19 from becoming law.

Bruce Fein, member of the Just Say Now advisory committee who served in the Justice Department as Associate Deputy Attorney General under President Reagan, responds:

Nothing in the Constitution requires a state to prohibit as a matter of state law and prosecution what the federal government has chosen to prohibit as a matter of federal law and prosecution. Proposition 19 leaves the power of the federal government to enforce federal prohibitions on marijuana trafficking or use unimpaired. It would be flagrantly unconstitutional for Congress to attempt to force states to enact laws prohibiting under state law conduct that Congress has prohibited under federal law! DEA needs remedial education on the Constitution.

Says Aaron Houston, Executive Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and co-founder of the Just Say Now campaign: “This is the same ‘Reefer Madness’ rhetoric they used to fight against medical marijuana.  We’re talking about making sure they could continue to arrest sick and dying people who used medical marijuana. It’s the exact same argument we heard then, that the sky would fall, but it hasn’t.”

“As a 34-year veteran cop, I can tell you that the prohibition approach not only doesn’t work but actually causes violence in our cities by funneling tax-free money to vicious drug cartels and gangs,” said Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and a former narcotics cops with the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department.  “To these former DEA officials, I would like to say: ‘For 40 years we’ve tried your way. It doesn’t work.’ Now it’s time to try legalization and regulation, which will reduce violence and create new tax revenue, just like we saw with the end of alcohol prohibition.”

Over 28,000 people have been killed in the war between the Mexican government and the drug cartels.  Last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the drug violence in Mexico as an “insurgency.”

Mexico’s National Security Adviser Alejandro Poire responded, saying that the drug cartels are “nourished by the enormous, gigantic demand for drugs in the United States.”  That demand is something that the nine DEA chiefs, and their failed drug war, have done nothing to diminish.

Source: http://fdlaction.firedoglake.com/2010/09/13/just-say-now-responds-to-dea-hysteria-on-prop-19/

Eric Sterling also responds:

Earlier today, a collection of former chiefs of the Drug Enforcement Administration garnered a lot of media attention for voicing opposition to California’s Proposition 19. As Jane Hamsher explained:

Nine former DEA heads held a press conference this morning to promote their letter to Eric Holder, asking the Justice Department to intervene and challenge Prop 19 if it passes (PDF). They claim that since the Justice Department moved so quickly to oppose the Arizona immigration law, it’s their obligation to do the same here.

I worked directly with DEA Administrators Bensinger, Mullen, and Lawn in the 1980s, and have had debates or conversations with Bonner, Constantine, and Hutchinson.

First, this letter is the clearest indication that the drug prohibition establishment recognizes the political attractiveness and unique importance of Prop. 19. I cannot recall any previous collaboration of former DEA Administrators of this kind. If our national marijuana prohibition policy were not so clearly failing and not so close to being replaced with real controls, they would never have mobilized in this way to defend it. If Prop. 19 were not proposing a system of control that is so logical and straight forward that it is widely politically attractive, they would not be mobilizing this kind of collaboration.

Second, this letter makes a most cursory defense of our failed marijuana policy in calling for an extraordinary remedy: block Prop. 19 in the court because it is a political challenge to premises of the federal law.

Do the former DEA Administrators defend the federal marijuana prohibition with evidence that marijuana’s harms to users are so great that users must be denied the liberty to take the minimal risks attendant to its use? No, they cite an annual “strategy document” that has historically been an instrument of political propaganda, and was never taken seriously a genuine policy or planning document for addressing public safety or public health problems.

Do the former Administrators defend the current prohibition policy because it reduces crime? Of course not.

Do they offer any argument that the United States will be harmed if California legalizes adult use of marijuana? No.

Do they suggest that the international prestige of the United States will be undermined in any respect of Prop. 19 passes? Of course not, for the opposite is true as suggested by the recent Washington Post commentary of Mexico’s former foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda.

Third, they are wrong on the key question regarding the merits of the lawsuit they desire the Attorney General to file. Proposition 19 withdraws California enforcement of its marijuana law which is its Constitutional prerogative. The Supreme Court ruled in the Printz case that Congress cannot “commandeer” state officials to enforcement federal laws. This is different from the Arizona immigration situation in which Arizona sought to authorize state conduct based on federal immigration status, and to create offenses based on federal immigration status. Immigration is explicitly a Federal power in Article I, section 8 of the Constitution. Marijuana prohibition is not in the Constitution. Federal power over marijuana is based on the commerce clause. Our law is filled with areas in which there is both federal and state regulation of various aspects of commerce. The Controlled Substances Act, unlike the Federal Communications Act, does not exclude states from regulation.

On its face, Prop. 19 is a completely different concept. Historically, Prop. 19 is akin to the act of the New York legislature repealing its alcohol prohibition law in 1923 which was perfectly lawful and Constitutional.

Eric E. Sterling is the President of The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, a private non-profit educational organization that helps educate the nation about criminal justice problems. As a former Assistant Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee (1979-1989), Mr. Sterling was responsible for writing federal drug laws. He serves on the advisory board of Just Say Now.

Source: http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/71066