Ex-DEA chiefs, czars urge action against states legalizing pot

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DENVER | The Obama administration is facing rising national and international pressure to nullify efforts in Colorado and Washington state to implement new laws legalizing recreational marijuana use.

Nine former Drug Enforcement Administration chiefs and four former drug czars are asking the Senate Judiciary Committee this week to “encourage Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to adhere to long-standing federal law and policy in this regard” at its Wednesday oversight hearing.

“Our nation urgently needs action from Attorney General Holder to ensure that federal marijuana laws are enforced, federal preemption is asserted, and our obligations under international drug treaties are honored,” said the officials in a letter dated Monday on stationery from S.O.S.: Save Our Society from Drugs.

The letter comes as a United Nations agency, the International Narcotics Control Board, called on U.S. officials in its annual report released Monday to “ensure full compliance with the international drug control treaties on its entire territory.”

Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, issued a statement Tuesday blasting the former anti-drug chiefs for “taking action to maintain the policies that kept them and their colleagues in business for so long.”

“Their desire to keep marijuana sales in an underground market favors the drug cartels, whereas the laws approved in Colorado and Washington favor legitimate, tax-paying businesses,” said Mr. Tvert, who led the Amendment 64 campaign in Colorado. “Marijuana prohibition has failed, and voters are ready to move on and adopt a more sensible approach.”

Mr. Holder has yet to say whether he will permit the states to sidestep federal marijuana law, although he told the National Association of Attorneys General last week that the department expected to issue a policy “soon.”

In 2009, Mr. Holder gave leeway to states, including Colorado, to allow cultivation and sales of medical marijuana following the passage of ballot initiatives. Lawmakers in Colorado and Washington have asked for federal guidance on whether they will be allowed to proceed in the same manner with recreational marijuana.

“We’re still in the process of reviewing both the initiatives that were passed,” said Mr. Holder in response to a question from Colorado Attorney General John Suthers.

In the meantime, Colorado and Washington policymakers are moving to establish regulations for recreational marijuana cultivation, distribution and sales. Voters in both states passed measures in November allowing recreational marijuana use for those 21 and older — the first states in the nation to do so.

A Colorado task force last week signed off on several implementation measures, including a 15 percent excise tax as well as separate marijuana tax; a limit on how much marijuana may be purchased in one transaction; and rules allowing out-of-state visitors to purchase marijuana, known as “marijuana tourism.”

The state legislature must finalize regulations before adjourning in May, and refer any proposed tax increases for voter approval on the November ballot.

Signers of anti-pot letter include former drug czars Barry McCaffrey, John P. Walters, Robert L. DuPont and Carleton E. Turner; and former DEA administrators Robert C. Bonner, Karen Tandy, Asa Hutchinson, Donnie Mitchell, Thomas A. Constantine, Jack Lawn, Francis Mullen, Peter B. Bensinger, and John Bartels.

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