Don't Blame Eric Holder For Confusing Pot Policies

By Mark Kleiman

WASHINGTON:  Federal law makes it a crime to grow, sell or possess cannabis. New state laws in Colorado and Washington state permit those activities, and officials there are issuing licenses to local companies to commit what remain federal felonies.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced in August that it would give a low priority to enforcement efforts against state-licensed growers and sellers in states with “strong and vigorous” regulations, except where they involve other activities such as violence or interstate sales.

President Barack Obama has spoken out about the harm done by the 650,000 arrests a year for cannabis possession (disproportionately among young minority men). He recently said that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, and that he’s willing to let the legalization experiments in Colorado and Washington go forward, though he shied away from an endorsement of legalization nationally.

Critics, including Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., have attacked both the president and Attorney General Eric Holder for sending “mixed messages,” with Mica using the term “schizophrenic.” Some Republicans, and some pundits, have charged Holder with having a “pot problem,” and with disregarding “the rule of law” by choosing which laws to enforce. Those criticisms are badly wide of the mark.

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