Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

October 11, 2010
Ex-DEA chief: Prop 19 backers 'smoking something' in tax pitch

As the United States Attorney in Los Angeles in the late 1980s, Robert C. Bonner prosecuted Mexican drug cartel members and conspirators in the ruthless torture and murder of a U.S. drug agent, Enrique "Kiki" Camarena.

At the time, he vowed: "The United States government will not let the murder of an agent by a terrorist organization go unavenged."

These days, Bonner is refusing let a California ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use go unchallenged.

In an interview for an article in last Friday's Sacramento Bee, Bonner argued that Proposition 19 not only defies federal law but also breaches international drug control treaties. "It would send a terrible signal to countries of the world," he said from Mexico City, where he was attending an international drug policy conference.

Bonner is a former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, a retired federal judge and past commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. He now is a senior principal for The Sentinel HS Group, a consulting firm on homeland security.

The man who has spent much of his life in the drug war has nothing good to say about Proposition 19.

He said in the interview that he doesn't believe the measure can weaken Mexican drug cartels as proponents suggest. If anything, Bonner said, the initiative will force the drug networks to diversity - redoubling efforts on cocaine and methamphetamine and perhaps increasing "kidnappings and extortion" in Mexico.

"It will have very little impact on the overall power of the drug cartels based in Mexico," Bonner said. "They are criminal organizations and they don't go away. To the extent you take away their revenues a little bit, they will make it up in other activities."

Bonner was one of nine former DEA administrators who signed a letter urging Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration to bring suit against California if voters pass Proposition 19.

In the interview, Bonner claimed the initiative is being falsely marketed as a tax revenue source.

Even though California already collects some $100 million in sales taxes on legal medical marijuana operations, Bonner said no one in their right mind would pay pot taxes if state voters legalize recreational marijuana. He said doing so would be a tacit admission of violating federal drug laws.

"Nobody is going to pay taxes," he said. "You would have to be really stupid to pay taxes to the state of California and admit to a very serious crime."

He charged that Proposition 19 proponents selling the initiative as a tax revenues boom "either know that's false or they're smoking something."

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