Eric Holder: I’m “cautiously optimistic” about legal pot in Washington and Colorado

The attorney general says both the feds and other states are taking a wait-and-see approach to legalizing marijuana

Topics: The Huffington Post, Eric Holder, Attorney General Eric Holder, marijuana, Pot, Legalize it, Department of Justice, Colorado, Washington, War on Drugs, , ,

Attorney General Eric Holder says it’s too soon to tell whether or not the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado has been, on-net, a good or bad thing for the states. But he was willing to say that he remains “cautiously optimistic” about the ultimate results.

“I think it’s hard to tell,” Holder said of what laws regarding marijuana in the U.S. will look like in 10 years.

“I think there might have been a burst of feeling that what happened in Washington and Colorado was going to be soon replicated across the country,” he continued. “I’m not sure that is necessarily the case. I think a lot of states are going to be looking to see what happens in Washington, what happens in Colorado before those decisions are made in substantial parts of the country.”

Despite his refusal to offer an early verdict, however, Holder said that what he’s heard and seen thus far from Colorado and Washington has been mostly in-line with his expectations.

“But I think, so far, I’m cautiously optimistic,” Holder went on to say. “But as I indicated to both governors, we will be monitoring the progress of those efforts and if we conclude that they are not being done in an appropriate way, we reserve our rights to file lawsuits.”

Holder also spoke of his earlier experience with laws concerning pot, specifically his time as a judge tasked with handing down sentences related to the drug. “I’ll tell you, as a former judge, I had to put in jail substantial numbers of young people for possessory drug offenses,” Holder said, “and it was not from the perspective I had as a judge necessarily a good use of law enforcement resources.”

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Asked about his own personal history with marijuana, Holder told HuffPost he used pot in college and had characterized it as “youthful experimentation” in background checks for various federal nominations.

“Yeah, I certainly have said in my four, five, whatever number confirmation hearings I’ve had that you fill out the forms, that I had ‘youthful experimentation’ — I think was the phrase that we were told to use — when I was in college,” Holder said.

Holder also acknowledged the Obama administration has made the political decision not to unilaterally “reschedule” marijuana by taking it off the list of what the federal government considers the most dangerous drugs, though that is something the attorney general has the authority to do. Instead, Holder has said DOJ would be willing to work with Congress if they want to reschedule marijuana, which doesn’t seem likely to happen in the near future.

“I think that given what we have done in dealing with the whole Smart on Crime initiative and the executive actions that we have taken, that when it comes to rescheduling, I think this is something that should come from Congress,” Holder said. “We’d be willing to work with Congress if there is a desire on the part of Congress to think about rescheduling. But I think I’d want to hear, get a sense from them about where they’d like to be.”

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a staff writer at Salon, focusing on politics. Follow him on Twitter at @eliasisquith.

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