- - Wednesday, February 7, 2018


Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican, has taken it upon himself to obstruct the efficient functioning of the U.S. Department of Justice in order to protect marijuana dealers in Colorado.

When states started legalizing marijuana several years ago — Colorado was one of the first — the Obama Justice Department put a halt, in those states, to federal enforcement of federal drug laws as they applied to the sale and distribution of marijuana. Justice Department officials, in other words, rather than adhering to the rule of law, decided that they knew what was good for the American people better than did Congress — the body supposedly representing the will of the people.

In January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed the Obama policy, giving U.S. attorneys the discretion to investigate and prosecute marijuana dealers and suppliers under federal law regardless of what the state law is. If Congress wants the law changed, the Sessions Justice Department said, let Congress do it. We believe in the rule of law, he concluded. The Justice Department’s job is to enforce the law, not change it.

It is ironic that Mr. Gardner, a center-right Republican who generally believes in the rule of law, should go to the mat for the marijuana industry at the expense of the efficient implementation of the fully staffed government of his fellow Republican, President Trump. More than 30 Justice Department nominees are awaiting confirmation by the U.S. Senate, but because of Mr. Gardner’s selfish action, all are in limbo and the departments, agencies and U.S. Attorney and U.S. Marshal offices that these nominees should be running are adrift without a leader — and directed by either a career Justice Department employee or an Obama holdover.

Senator Gardner does a real disservice to the nation,” blasted the Fraternal Order of Police recently, “and we urgently ask him to reconsider his rash and ill-advised obstructionism.”

What about the nominees, some of whom were sent to the Senate nearly a year ago? Many left their other jobs to work for the government and are now unemployed, while others are at the end of their rope and may withdraw, requiring the process to begin all over again.

Mr. Gardner’s obstructionism is also ironic because of the political damage he will inflict on his fellow Republican senators. As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he is in charge of Republican efforts to retain control of the Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections. A good campaign issue for Democratic Senate candidates may be the ineffectiveness of the Trump administration, including at the Department of Justice, an argument that will only be strengthened by Mr. Gardner’s blockade of Trump political appointees at the department.

Mr. Gardner, in protecting the Colorado pot industry, ignores the effectiveness that federal prosecutions might have in the wider war on drugs. Suppose, for example, that the FBI becomes aware of an enterprise that is purchasing tons of marijuana in Colorado — legal under state law, but a federal crime — and transporting it to other states and countries to sell. It would be far easier for prosecutors to investigate and bring such a case in Colorado, before it becomes an interstate or international enterprise.

The bigger issue, also overlooked by Mr. Gardner, is California. The legal Colorado pot industry, the largest in the nation, exceeded $1 billion in sales last year and added some $2.5 billion to the economy. But it will soon be overtaken many times by California, which legalized recreational marijuana use on Jan. 1 of this year.

But if the legal dollars are large, the illegal dollars are larger. Newsweek magazine reported just last week that Mexican drug cartels operate tens of thousands of black market marijuana farms across Northern California, manufacture tons of illegal marijuana and commit massive amounts of crime in the process.

They use, for example, large quantities of highly toxic and illegal pesticides that pollute the landscape and kill animals, and their employees, largely illegal Mexican immigrants, are virtually enslaved, guarded by thugs carrying high-powered rifles. Should these criminals be immune from federal prosecution? Cory Gardner apparently thinks so.

Mr. Gardner has virtually tied the entire process of staffing the Department of Justice in knots in order to satisfy a few of his Colorado pot-growing constituents. In the process, U.S. attorneys’ offices, U.S. Marshals’ offices, and numerous divisions and bureaus in Department of Justice remain without leadership, and more than 30 appointees sit in limbo, wasting their time awaiting Senate confirmation. It is hard to imagine that any member of the U.S. Senate could be as irresponsible as the junior senator from Colorado.

Alfred Regnery worked in the Reagan administration and is the chairman of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund.

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