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Feds take stand against Prop 19

Former D.E.A. Administrator Robert Bonner reads a letter from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.  The U.S. Department of Justice says it will not recognize a state law legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults, even if California votes yes on Prop 19.
Former D.E.A. Administrator Robert Bonner reads a letter from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The U.S. Department of Justice says it will not recognize a state law legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults, even if California votes yes on Prop 19.
Patricia Nazario/KPCC

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No matter how Californians vote on marijuana legalization next month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says the federal government will still consider it illegal. The U.S. Supreme Court says federal law trumps state law. That would give drug enforcement agents the right to arrest adults with recreational pot, even if Proposition 19 passes.

In August, all nine former heads of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration signed a letter to Holder seeking his position on the California ballot measure.  Former administrator Robert Bonner read part of Holder’s response that says, “…the Department of Justice firmly opposes Prop 19.”

“Attorney General Holder also very clearly states that if Proposition 19 passes, the U.S. Department of Justice will vigorously enforce, and I’m using his terms, the federal laws that still make it a crime to sell, traffic, distribute and commercially cultivate marijuana.”

Law enforcement officials including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca stood alongside Bonner as he shared Holder’s letter with reporters today at sheriff's headquarters.  Baca says his department will continue to work with federal agents whether or not Prop 19 passes.

The Yes on Prop 19 campaign says politicians don’t have their priorities straight. Organizers who favor legal marijuana say a “yes” vote would push the federal government to revamp failed and costly drug-enforcement policies.