Holder, Cops Clash on DOJ's Decision to Ease Pot Enforcement

Cannabis will remain a Schedule I controlled substance under the decision. Federal prosecutors will be left with the authority to interpret Cole’s directions and carry them out as they see fit.

But law enforcement opponents maintain marijuana continues to carry a devastating impact. More than 8,000 driving deaths related to drugs occur each year, many involving marijuana. Data from Colorado shows fatalities involving drivers testing positive for marijuana increased 114 percent between 2006 and 2011. From 2005 to 2008, the national average for emergency room admissions for marijuana-related incidents was 18 percent. In Colorado it was 25 percent.

In addition, officials documented major increases in marijuana exports from Colorado to other states between 2010 and 2012.

Regardless, marijuana legalization is growing across the country. Illinois is the latest to join the list, deciding that medical marijuana will be legal there beginning on Jan. 1.

Illinois will then become the 20th state to legalize marijuana for medical use. Washington and Colorado remain the only two states that have approved by referendum the drug for recreational use. Other states, like Wisconsin, Maine and Pennsylvania, are considering legislation to join the rising tide. A group calling itself the California Cannabis Hemp & Health Initiative received approval from the Golden State’s secretary of state to circulate a petition to legalize pot at the ballot box in the November 2014 election.

The effort continues to gain in popularity. Gallup released a survey on Oct. 22 showing for the first time that a clear majority of Americans – 58 percent -- say marijuana should be legalized. This contrasts sharply with the national view in 1969 when Gallup first asked the question, finding then that only 12 percent favored legalization. Public support for legalization more than doubled in the 1970s, growing to 28 percent. It plateaued during the 1980s and 1990s before inching steadily higher since 2000, reaching 50 percent in 2011.

A sizable percentage of Americans, 38 percent, acknowledged trying the drug.

Opposition from law enforcement is not across the board. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group consisting of police, judges, prosecutors, corrections officials and federal agents who oppose the nation’s War on Drugs, prevailed upon Holder to not interfere with the wishes of the voters who opt to legalize and regulate marijuana in their states.

"We seem to be at a turning point in how our society deals with marijuana," said Neill Franklin, LEAP’s executive director. "The war on marijuana has funded the expansion of drug cartels, it has destroyed community-police relations and it has fostered teenage use by creating an unregulated market where anyone has easy access.”

Prohibition, Franklin said, has failed.

“Pretty much everyone knows it -- especially those of us who dedicated our lives to enforcing it,” he said.