Book: Holder went on ‘Reefer Madness’-like campaign to distract from Fast and Furious

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
Font Size:

In late 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder authorized raids against marijuana dispensaries in California, where medicinal marijuana is legal, in an effort to create a distraction from the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, a new book set for release Tuesday claims.

“Eric Holder, Obama’s embattled Attorney General, was under mounting pressure from Congress to explain the botched Fast and Furious sting operation, whereby two thousand assault rifles and other firearms were sold to suspected traffickers for the Mexican drug cartels,” Martin A. Lee writes in “Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific.”

“It was intended as an intelligence-gathering ploy, but U.S. agents lost track of most of these weapons.”

In an excerpt obtained and published by the left-wing news and opinion website TruthOut.org, Lee describes the Fast and Furious scandal — including how it led to the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry — and how Holder “stonewalled” Congress for months, “disavowing any knowledge of the caper despite documentation showing that high-level Justice Department officials aided the surveillance mission.”

“The fact that Fast and Furious had its roots in a similar Bush-era ATF operation mattered little to GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, the grandstanding chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who went so far as to accuse the Obama administration of purposely allowing the guns to escape as part of a liberal plot to impose new gun control laws,” Lee writes. “Issa was not credible; nor was Holder.”

Lee goes on to explain that when calls for special investigations into Fast and Furious and for Holder’s resignation intensified in October 2011, Holder played what Lee calls the “ace up his sleeve.”

“Ever since California voters approved Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana for medical use in 1996, law enforcement lobbyists had been urging the federal government to enforce prohibition and choke off the burgeoning industry,” Lee writes.

“On October 7, the same day Holder wrote a detailed letter to Rep. Issa, defending his handling of the Fast and Furious affair, four federal prosecutors in California held a hastily organized press conference in which they threw down the gauntlet and announced the start of a far-ranging crackdown that would nearly decimate the Golden State’s medical marijuana industry.”

“Within ten months, close to half of California’s 1400 dispensaries would shut down as the DEA waged an all-out vendetta against what Proposition 215 had unloosed,” Lee continued.

“The drug police weren’t just going after the bad apples; they were going after every apple in the barrel. Cannabis dispensaries abiding by state law were raided by federal agents. Federal prosecutors threatened to seize property from landlords who rented to medical marijuana facilities. The feds also threatened municipal officials who sought to implement state medical marijuana regulations. Federally insured banks and credit card companies refused to service marijuana-related enterprises.”

Lee questions how Obama — the “Choom Gang kid” who smoked marijuana with his friends in Hawaii as a teenager — could “unleash the dogs of the drug war against a thriving business sector when times were tough economically and jobs were scarce?”

“Team Obama’s decision to crack down on the medical marijuana industry wasn’t motivated by public health concerns,” Lee writes, answering his own question. “The Justice Department green-lit a scorched earth campaign against medicinal cannabis in order to placate law enforcement and control the damage from the Fast and Furious scandal by deflecting attention to other matters.”

Lee compares Holder’s raids to the “Reefer Madness” campaign of the 1930s.

“Marijuana’s illegality has long been a useful vehicle for Machiavellian public officials,” Lee writes.

“In the mid-1930s, when Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, realized his entire department was on the chopping block because of Depression-era budget cuts, he launched the Reefer Madness campaign to convince Congress and the American people that a terrible menace threatened the country, one that required a well-funded antinarcotics program. He demonized marijuana to preserve and expand his bureaucratic fiefdom.”

Lee argues that this is not dissimilar from what Holder did.

“Backed into a corner, Holder drew from a similar playbook as Anslinger, underscoring once again that marijuana prohibition has little to do with the actual effects of the herb and everything to do with cynical bureaucratic self-interest,” Lee writes.

Follow Matthew on Twitter