Two weeks ago, Washington and Colorado passed historically unprecedented measures legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults dealing a major blow to the decades-long drug war.
Since the marijuana measures passed, the federal government has remained mostly silent on the issue, but members of law enforcement are asking President Barack Obama as well as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to respect these states' new marijuana legalization laws.
Neill Franklin, director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and a former narcotics police officer, delivered a letter to Holder's office at the Department of Justice Tuesday morning urging him not interfere with voters in Colorado and Washington who wish to have marijuana legalized and regulated.
Read the text of the letter that LEAP's Neill Franklin delivered to Eric Holder this morning, below:
Dear Mr. Attorney General and Our Colleagues in the Department of Justice,
As fellow law enforcement and criminal justice professionals we respectfully call upon you to respect and abide by the democratically enacted laws to regulate marijuana in Colorado and Washington. This is not a challenge to you, but an invitation – an invitation to help return our profession to the principles that made us enter law enforcement in the first place.
We went into law enforcement, despite its long hours and constant frustrations, because we wanted to serve our communities. We wanted to save people, to protect them, and there are few more selfless and noble callings on this earth. But the second we overthrow the will of the people, we fail to live up to the promise of that calling.
The great American political writings upon which this country was founded were based in John Locke’s concept of the social contract, which recognizes that the authority of police, and of all government, is derived from the people. And the people have spoken. To disregard the fact is to undermine the legitimacy of the ideas for which our forefathers fought and died.
This is not merely an academic argument. August Vollmer, father of professional policing and primary author of the Wickersham Commission report that served to bring an end to the prohibition of alcohol, opposed the enforcement of drug laws, saying that they "engender disrespect both for law and for the agents of law enforcement." His words ring as true today as they did in 1929. After 40 years of the drug war, people no longer look upon law enforcement as heroes but as people to be feared. This is particularly true in poor neighborhoods and in those of people of color, and it impacts our ability to fight real crime.
Read the full letter and see the 73 law enforcement community members that signed off on it, here.
On Tuesday afternoon, LEAP held a teleconference call announcing the delivery of the letter and Frankin was joined by former Seattle chief of police Norm Stamper, 36-year veteran former Denver police lieutenant Tony Ryan, former police lieutenant commander Diane Goldstein & California NAACP President Alice Huffman.
"This is the perfect opportunity for this administration, under the leadership of President Obama, to do the right thing," Franklin said on Tuesday's teleconference call. "In Washington State and in Colorado, voters have gone to the polls and overwhelmingly sent a message that it's time for a new drug policy for marijuana in their state. It's a perfect opportunity for the president to respect democracy and the demonstration of it."
Members of state and federal government are also keeping the pressure on Obama and Holder to respect states like Colorado and Washington that have passed marijuana legalization measures.
Last week, Colorado Reps Jared Polis and Diana DeGette introduced the "Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act" that would exempt states from the federal laws banning the sale, possession and use of small amounts of marijuana by adults, The Colorado Independent reported.
Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) alo announced last week that they are urging President Barack Obama to "respect the wishes of voters in Colorado and Washington" who voted to legalize marijuana.
"We have sponsored legislation at the federal level to remove criminal penalties for the use of marijuana because of our belief in individual freedom," Frank and Paul wrote in a letter to Obama. "We recognize that this has not yet become national policy, but we believe there are many strong reasons for your administration to allow the states of Colorado and Washington to set the policies they believe appropriate in this regard, without the federal government overriding the choices made by the voters of these states."
Both Frank and Paul are ardent supporters of marijuana legalization. In 2011, the two pushed legislation to end the federal ban on marijuana and let the states decide on legalization.
Just days after Frank and Paul's letter to the White House, 18 members of Congress signed a letter to Eric Holder and and Drug Enforcement Administrator Michele Leonhart requesting that the federal government respect state laws regarding marijuana allowing states be permitted to function as "laboratories of democracy." Read Congress' full letter to Holder here.
When asked about Holder's expected reaction to the letter, Franklin said during Tuesday's teleconference call, "I think that not only what they are hearing from us, but from members of Congress and other citizens, as well as looking at the numbers and the trends -- I think they probably realize it was a good decision not to advocate for the continuation of prohibition in Colorado and Washington. Personally, I'm an optimist regarding all of this and I see it as a good sign that they didn't go into Colorado and Washington."
The federal government's enforcement intent on marijuana law remains unclear, now two weeks since Amendment 64 passed in Colorado and Initiative 502 passed in Washington. Holder, who was a vocal opponent of California's legalization initiative in 2010 saying he would "vigorously enforce" federal marijuana prohibition, remained silent on the issue during the election cycle and has continued to remain silent now that the measures have passed.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who has been a vocal opponent of Amendment 64 but has said that he intends to respect the wishes of the voters, did have a recent phone call with Holder to discuss Colorado's legalizing of marijuana and how the feds might respond, but the results of that call gave no clue as to whether or not the Department of Justice will sue to block the marijuana measures in Colorado and Washington, according to The Associated Press.
If the Obama administration does decide to crackdown on legalized marijuana in Colorado -- where more people voted for marijuana legalization than for the president's reelection -- the administration could face some serious political fallout with much of the same population of the Centennial State that handed him Colorado on election night.
However many proponents of legalization say they don't foresee federal agents interfering in states that have legalized cannabis, NBC News reported, citing the federal government's silence on the issue this election cycle.
There is also the July report from GQ which stated that President Obama wants to "pivot" on the war on drugs during his second term. Marc Ambinder writes:
Don't expect miracles. There is very little the president can do by himself. And pot-smokers shouldn't expect the president to come out in favor of legalizing marijuana. But from his days as a state senator in Illinois, Obama has considered the Drug War to be a failure, a conflict that has exacerbated the problem of drug abuse, devastated entire communities, changed policing practices for the worse, and has led to a generation of young children, disproportionately black and minority, to grow up in dislocated homes, or in none at all.
Optimism about a second-term Obama administration that turns its stance around on marijuana might be difficult for some pot business owners who have seen the DOJ aggressively crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries in states like California and Colorado where hundreds of pot shops have been shuttered just since the beginning of 2012.
"During his first term, President Obama really disappointed those of us who hoped he might follow through on his campaign pledges to respect state medical marijuana laws," said Franklin, in a statement about the letter delivered to Holder on Tuesday. "Still, I'm hopeful that in his second term he'll realize the political opportunity that exists to do the right thing."
During his closing remarks on Tuesday's call, Franklin outlined the process that President Obama could go through: "It's a very simple process here for the administration and President Obama," Franklin began. "Tomorrow, or maybe later today, he can take his ink pen and sign an executive order for the DEA to remove marijuana from Schedule I, place it into a three or four category, and allow the states and the voters to do what they feel is best for their communities."