Out to Lynch: New AG Says No to Marijuana Legalization

Loretta Lynch: "It is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support legalization (of marijuana)."

Just as I was beginning to harbor the faintest feelings that maybe the United States’ War on Pot really is drawing to a close, along comes Pres. Obama’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. The replacement for retiring AG Eric Holder - she was comfirmed by the Senate on Apr. 23 - is doing her best to dash my nascent hopes and dreams for saner, more intelligent drug policies in this country.

Earning a BA from Harvard College in 1981 and a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1984, Lynch first went to work for the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District, as a drug and violent crimes prosecutor, in 1990, and was the chief of the New York Long Island office from 1994 to 1998. She then served as Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District until 1999, when, upon being nominated by Pres. Clinton, began her first run as the Eastern District’s Attorney General until 2001. It was during this time she prosecuted the NYPD officers who sodomized Abner Louima in a New York police station bathroom with a broken broom handle. Lynch entered private practice in 2001, until her second nomination for the Eastern District office of Attorney General by Pres. Obama in 2010, for which she was again confirmed with little opposition. 

It isn’t just her telling the Senators at her confirmation hearing on Jan. 29 that...

'...not only do I not support the legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support the legalization. Nor would it be the position should I become confirmed as Attorney General'

...though this is horribly unpromising. Nor is it the fact that she not only finds the current and past NSA spying programs aimed at U.S. citizens “constitutional and effective,” as well as telling the Senators that “civil and criminal forfeiture are very important tools of the Department of Justice as well as our state and local counterparts.” Yes, these comments do not bode well for rational, compassionate drug and other justice policy reforms in the U.S., and should put us all on our guard. But it's also the ilk of her supporters that should really frighten those of us fighting for compassionate reforms and policies.

According to Media Matters, Lynch’s supporters include a litany of right-wing stalwarts, leading lights of strong law enforcement and the folks at Fox News. Rupert Murdoch tweeted that it “Seems Obama made good choice for new AG. Reputation for fairness and strict legality" (anything that pleases Murdoch should tell us something). But that’s not even the half of it. Here are a few of the glowing recommendations by her law enforcement supporters:

• Current New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton: "A remarkable prosecutor with a clear sense of justice without fear ofd favor."

• Former FBI director Louis Freeh: "Happy to give Ms. Lynch my highest personal and professional recommendation." 

• Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani: "If I were in the Senate, I would confirm her."

Astonishingly, it appears that some reformers don’t seem to be all that worried. Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, told U.S. News and World Report, “We can only hope she was telling some lawmakers what they need to hear in order to get through the confirmation process.” 

Tom Angell, founder and chairman of the Marijuana Majority tells CelebStoner: “Progressives concerned with spying, the death penalty and government assassination of American citizens can find a lot to be concerned and disappointed about in Lynch's testimony. But from a purely marijuana-focused perspective, I don't think there's that much to worry about. Yes, she personally opposes legalization, but so do Barack Obama and Eric Holder. The thing is, we don't need federal officials to personally endorse legalization. All we need them to do is allow states that vote to legalize to implement those laws without federal interference. Lynch's testimony indicates she'll continue the Obama/Holder policy that has given room to Colorado and Washington to move ahead and demonstrate to the world that legalization works. Would I ideally like to have an AG who supports legalization? Sure. But Lynch's personal opinion on the topic isn't going to stop our progress in the states.”

But others are not quite so calm, like former New Mexico Governor and long-time opponent of the War on Some Drugs, Gary Johnson, who's extremely unhappy about Lynch’s comments concerning the NSA spying program and asset forfeiture. 

“These are just two of hours worth of extremely troubling statements from President Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, at her Senate confirmation hearing,” he wrote in a circulated email. “So much for the 4th Amendment, due process or basic property rights. And the really troubling part is that she will, by all accounts, be confirmed with little opposition from the politicians in the Senate who, for the most part, agree with her big government, little freedom view of the world. This confirmation process, for the nation’s top law enforcement official, is just the first of many battles and decisions that will be made in the weeks and months ahead that will directly impact our civil liberties, economic freedom and constitutional rights.”

I've been thinking lately that the ball has gone too far, that there's no real way that prohibitionists can take back the progress that's been made in terms of marijuana reforms. But, the war has not yet been won; there are still states like Louisiana that lock up individuals for long terms for meager amounts of marijuana. Lynch gives me little hope that these sorts of prosecutions are a going to end any time soon. Still, as long as voters continue to voice their opposition to the insane anti-marijuana policies that have been the norm in the U.S. for decades, there is a real chance to end this war in my lifetime. 

Preston Peet

Preston Peet

Editor of "Under the Influence, the Disinformation Guide to Drugs," former editor of DrugWar.com, and writer of numerous articles around the globe.