Pubdate: Wed, 06 Mar 2013
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2013 The Seattle Times Company
Page: B1


Eight former U.S. drug chiefs warned the federal government Tuesday 
that time is running out to nullify Washington and Colorado's new 
laws legalizing recreational marijuana use, and they want a U.S. 
Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday to question Attorney General 
Eric Holder on his plans.

The federal government still considers marijuana an illegal drug with 
no medical value, like heroin. Holder recently said his decision on 
how to respond to legal marijuana for adult use in the two states is imminent.

The former Drug Enforcement Administration chiefs criticized Barack 
Obama's administration for moving too slowly to file a lawsuit that 
would force the states to rescind the legislation.

"My fear is that the Justice Department will do what they are doing 
now: Do nothing and say nothing," former DEA Administrator Peter 
Bensinger said Monday. "If they don't act now, these laws will be 
fully implemented in a matter of months."

Bensinger, who lives in the Chicago area, said if the federal 
government doesn't immediately sue the states it will risk creating 
"a domino effect" in which other states legalize marijuana, too.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he's ready to respond 
legally if the federal government challenges Washington's legal pot 
law enacted by Initiative 502.

"I understand their perspective," Ferguson said of the ex-DEA chiefs. 
"But my job as lawyer for the state is to uphold Initiative 502 and 
that's what I intend to do."

The statement from the DEA chiefs came the same day the International 
Narcotics Control Board, a U.N. agency, made its appeal in an annual 
drug report, calling on federal officials to act to "ensure full 
compliance with the international drug control treaties on its entire 

Key figures in Washington's legal pot law said there's nothing new or 
particularly relevant in the former DEA chiefs' stance.

The author of Washington's new law, Alison Holcomb, said the 
anti-drug warriors are reprising the same arguments they used in 
campaigns against the two states' new laws last year. "They're not 
raising new issues. They're arguing we need to stick with the status 
quo," said Holcomb, drug-policy director for the ACLU of Washington.

The federal war on drugs has been an "abject failure," said Rep. 
Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, who leads state House oversight of the new 
law. Hurst accused the ex-DEA chiefs of "irrelevant meddling."

A former narcotics detective, Hurst said Washington residents have 
the right to determine their destiny. "I stand with the citizens of 
Washington to try and get it right," said Hurst.

Many, including the former DEA chiefs and Holcomb, speculate that 
Holder may reveal his policy at Wednesday's meeting of the Senate 
Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C.

Holcomb said she has no "inside line" to the Department of Justice 
and no solid information on Holder's thinking.

Holcomb said the United Nations' concern is another issue raised 
frequently since California legalized medical marijuana in 1996. 
Federal officials should modify treaty obligations to allow states' 
rights, she said.

The federal government should retain jurisdiction over international 
matters, Hurst said, and states certainly shouldn't export marijuana 
to other countries. "But I think Washington state is being careful to 
make sure that's not happening. Washington's path is not an 
abandonment of law or civilized process. It is tight regulation and 
control," Hurst said.

John McKay, former top federal prosecutor for Western Washington, 
said the demand by ex-DEA chiefs for a federal lawsuit is misguided.

"I think the appropriate path is being taken in dialogue between the 
states and the Department of Justice," said McKay, a sponsor of 
I-502. "We can come to common ground here, which is we all want to 
get rid of drug cartels."

Nothing has changed for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, 
the state agency charged with implementing the new legal pot law. 
"We're moving forward," said agency spokesman Brian Smith.

The agency will hold the last of eight statewide public forums at the 
Kitsap Conference Center in Bremerton on Thursday evening. The agency 
hopes to announce next week the consultants it will hire to provide 
weed expertise. State officials are now evaluating and scoring 
proposals from 54 legitimate applicants.

Holder told a meeting of state attorneys general last week that he is 
still reviewing the laws but that his review is winding down. Asked 
for a comment on the criticism from the former DEA administrators, 
Holder spokeswoman Allison Price would only say, "The Department of 
Justice is in the process of reviewing those initiatives."

The department's review has been under way since shortly after last 
fall's elections. It could sue to block the states from issuing 
licenses to marijuana growers, processors and retail stores, on the 
grounds that doing so conflicts with federal drug law. Alternatively, 
Holder could decide not to mount a court challenge.

The ex-DEA heads are issuing the statements through the Florida-based 
Save Our Society from Drugs.

The former DEA administrators are Bensinger, John Bartels, Robert 
Bonner, Thomas Constantine, Asa Hutchinson, John Lawn, Donnie 
Marshall and Francis Mullen. They served both Republican and 
Democratic administrations.

Associated Press and Seattle Times Staff Seattle Times staff reporter 
Bob Young contributed to this report.
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