In October of 2010, United States Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement regarding the Department of Justice’s position on the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act. The address was given in response to California Proposition 19, a ballot initiative due to be voted on in November of that year that, if passed, would have legalized various (read: recreational) uses of marijuana at the discretion and regulation of local governments. Holder said the following.
“Regardless of the passage of this or similar legislation, the Department of Justice will remain firmly committed to enforcing the CSA in all states. Prosecution of those who manufacture, distribute, or possess any illegal drugs, including marijuana and the disruption of drug trafficking organizations is a core priority of the Department. Accordingly, we will vigorously enforce the CSA against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture, or distribute marijuana for recreational use, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”
The message was loud and clear — and echoed the tone set in 2005 when the U.S. Supreme Court heard Gonzales v. Raich, a case in which a California producer of marijuana for medical use sued the government for interfering with (read: shut down by the Drug Enforcement Agency) their right to operate a solely intrastate business that adhered to state laws but violated federal laws. The case addressed the inevitable issue. What happens when the federal government decides to exercise its authority over a conflicting state law?