Eric Holder Optimistic, Cautious About Legal Marijuana

By Paul Gaita 04/18/14

The nation's top law enforcement officer has sounded a conciliatory tone in recent months, though he remains hesitant to fully embrace legal pot.

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Attorney General Eric Holder continues to maintain a veneer of optimism – with considerable reserve – in regard to marijuana legalization efforts across the country.

Speaking at a federal courthouse in Charleston, S.C. last week, the Obama administration’s top law enforcement figure stated that he was “cautiously optimistic” about efforts in both Colorado and Washington to legalize and regulate marijuana use. Last August, Holder allowed both states to have their ballot-approved laws go into effect, while also outlining guidelines for federal prosecutors to curb efforts to pursue small-time drug possession charges and allow marijuana businesses greater access to banking services.

The states were also told to follow a set of eight guidelines regarding the distribution or sale of marijuana to minors or states where marijuana remains illegal, among other priorities, or face prosecution through the Justice Department. “As I indicated to both [of the states’] governors, we will be monitoring the progress of those efforts [to maintain the guidelines]," Holder said. "And if we conclude that they are not being done in an appropriate way, we reserve our right to file lawsuits."

Holder expressed a similar level of caution when asked about the impact of Colorado and Washington’s legalization efforts on other states and districts. Already, Holder’s home base of Washington, D.C., has taken the steps to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and a number of states, including Florida, Rhode Island, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Michigan have either implemented similar laws or have submitted them for votes.

“I think a lot of states are going to be looking to see what happens in Washington [and] Colorado before those decisions are made in substantial parts of the country,” Holder said. “I think there might have been a burst of feeling that what happened [in those states] was going to be soon replicated across the country. I’m not sure that is necessarily the case.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.