This has been a bad few weeks for Holder. He has increasingly come under attack from members of Congress and the media for his department’s investigation of journalists. Several politicians, legal scholars and media personalities have called for his resignation. This has put Holder in full damage control mode at the moment.
So what do Holder’s struggles have to do with marijuana reform? The Department of Justice currently faces an incredibly important decision now that voters in Colorado and Washington State decided to legalize marijuana under state law. It could decide to do anything from cracking down aggressively to mostly leaving the states alone.
It has been more than half a year since the initiatives were approved, yet the DOJ still hasn’t publicly announced a decision on how it plans to respond. The issue will soon be forced to a head because marijuana businesses could begin opening at the start of next year
If Holder decides to aggressively use federal resources to stop the state’s new laws, that would be incredibly unpopular. Multiple polls have consistently found Americans overwhelmingly want the federal government to take a hands-off approach on this issue.
With Holder struggling it seems the last thing he would want to do is needlessly embrace a deeply unpopular new policy. A large majority of Democrats think marijuana should be legal and oppose federal interference. Given that Democrats are basically the only group that still approves of Holder’s job performance, deciding to upset them would seem to be a particularly ill-advised move at this time. One normally wants a firm base of support before embracing a controversial new policy, and that is something Holder no longer has.
The best conceivable outcome for the marijuana reform movement is that the DOJ adopts a policy of basically ignoring Colorado and Washington State so they get a chance to set up regulated marijuana markets. The more Holder is preoccupied with defending himself regarding other issues, the more likely that outcome seems.
Photo by Earthworm under Creative Commons license