Nine former DEA heads held a press conference this morning to promote their letter to Eric Holder, asking the Justice Department to intervene and challenge Prop 19 if it passes (PDF).  They claim that since the Justice Department moved so quickly to oppose the Arizona immigration law, it’s their obligation to do the same here.

The fact is that the DEA ignored Eric Holder’s directive, issued last year, to respect state medical marijuana laws.   Just last week, they raided 5 medical marijuana centers in Las Vegas.  The DEA will do what it wants, regardless of what Eric Holder does, and these people know it.  This looks like nothing so much as a blatantly political attempt to needle Holder (and Obama) and throw some gasoline on the already volatile Arizona situation.

The fact is that these 9 people shoulder a huge chunk of the blame for the utter and complete failure of the war on drugs that has made the situation on the Arizona border so critical.  It’s quite shameless that they’d make things even worse by demagoguing the immigration law in this fashion, but it’s symptomatic of a wasteful and counterproductive bureaucracy trying to protect its power — and its enormous budget.

The letter says:

[W]e note that the Department of Justice acted quickly to assert the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause in its recent suit to declare null and void certain provisions of an immigration bill passed by the state of Arizona.  We would expect the Department of Justice to act just as swiftly and for the same reason to uphold the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the preemption provision of the CSA to prevent Proposition 19 from becoming law.

Bruce Fein, member of the Just Say Now advisory committee who served in the Justice Department as Associate Deputy Attorney General under President Reagan, responds:

Nothing in the Constitution requires a state to prohibit as a matter of state law and prosecution what the federal government has chosen to prohibit as a matter of federal law and prosecution. Proposition 19 leaves the power of the federal government to enforce federal prohibitions on marijuana trafficking or use unimpaired. It would be flagrantly unconstitutional for Congress to attempt to force states to enact laws prohibiting under state law conduct that Congress has prohibited under federal law! DEA needs remedial education on the Constitution.

Says Aaron Houston, Executive Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and co-founder of the Just Say Now campaign: “This is the same ‘Reefer Madness’ rhetoric they used to fight against medical marijuana.  We’re talking about making sure they could continue to arrest sick and dying people who used medical marijuana. It’s the exact same argument we heard then, that the sky would fall, but it hasn’t.”

“As a 34-year veteran cop, I can tell you that the prohibition approach not only doesn’t work but actually causes violence in our cities by funneling tax-free money to vicious drug cartels and gangs,” said Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and a former narcotics cops with the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department.  “To these former DEA officials, I would like to say: ‘For 40 years we’ve tried your way. It doesn’t work.’ Now it’s time to try legalization and regulation, which will reduce violence and create new tax revenue, just like we saw with the end of alcohol prohibition.”

Over 28,000 people have been killed in the war between the Mexican government and the drug cartels.  Last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the drug violence in Mexico as an “insurgency.”

Mexico’s National Security Adviser Alejandro Poire responded, saying that the drug cartels are “nourished by the enormous, gigantic demand for drugs in the United States.”  That demand is something that the nine DEA chiefs, and their failed drug war, have done nothing to diminish.

Update: Eric Sterling, former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee tasked with overseeing the DEA, has posted his response.