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Holder vows fight over prop. 19

U.S. will enforce drug laws even if state measure passes, attorney general says.

October 16, 2010|John Hoeffel

Robert Raich, a lawyer who has handled two medical marijuana cases that went to the U.S. Supreme Court and supports Proposition 19, said the initiative does not violate federal law because it changes only state law, not federal law. "Simply because California and the federal government choose to punish an act differently does not mean they have a conflict," he said. He said it is no different than the state's medical marijuana laws, which have been upheld in court.

But he said DEA agents could still enforce federal drug laws.

"If the federal government wanted to waste its limited resources trying to prosecute some marijuana facility in Oakland, then nothing would stop them from doing that," he said.

The measure's proponents noted that Proposition 215, the medical marijuana law, drew a similar federal reaction.

"This is 1996 all over again," said Stephen Gutwillig, the state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. But he noted that, besides California, 13 states and the District of Columbia now allow medical marijuana. "All that happened without a single change in federal law."

Gutwillig criticized the Obama administration for continuing a costly war on drugs that has failed. But Peter Bensinger, who headed the DEA between 1976 and 1981 and was at the news conference, described it as a success because drug use is substantially lower now than at its peak in 1978.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, October 17, 2010 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Marijuana laws: In an article in the Oct. 16 LATExtra section about U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder's promise to "vigorously enforce" federal marijuana laws against Californians even if voters pass Proposition 19, the first name of a spokesman for the No on 19 campaign was wrong. He is Roger Salazar, not Robert.

President Obama has said he opposes legalizing marijuana, but last year his administration ended prosecutions of medical marijuana collectives and patients that abide by state laws, in effect choosing to ignore activities that violate the Controlled Substances Act.

Until Holder released his letter Friday, the Obama administration's fight against the initiative was largely being carried out by the drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske.

The White House press office, calling it a "sensitive issue," referred questions on the president's role to the Justice Department, which did not respond to a request for information or for an interview with Holder.

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