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.