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Eric Holder's Connection to Obama's 'Fast and Furious' Attack on Medical Pot

Right-wingers were calling for Eric Holder's head over Fast and Furious, so he went after the potheads.

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Team Obama’s decision to crack down on the medical marijuana industry wasn’t motivated by public health concerns. 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.

Medical marijuana facilities were red meat for cops and an easy payday for narcs who were aching to take down pot-selling storefronts throughout the Golden State and beyond. Desperate to shore up support among law enforcement, Holder, a longtime marijuana foe, threw the drug war dogs the perfect bone on October 7, 2011. It was a politically expedient decision designed to protect the attorney general’s bureaucratic position.

Marijuana’s illegality has long been a useful vehicle for Machiavellian public officials. 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.

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.

Martin A. Lee's newest book is Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana (Scribner, August 2012). He is the cofounder of the media watch group FAIR, director of Project CBD, and a contributor to BeyondTHC.com.