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Feds Shouldn't Use Offices To Keep U.S. Off Grass

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Colorado -- It's no great shock that agents in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration oppose the Colorado initiative that would legalize the possession of small quantities of marijuana. But it is surprising that the DEA feels duly entitled to wade into a state political debate.
Amendment 44 on the statewide ballot would legalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults over 21. At present, possessing this amount of marijuana is a Class 2 petty offense in Colorado, punishable by a fine of up to $100. About 3,700 people were convicted of this offense last year.

It would still be illegal to grow the stuff, to sell it, to possess more than one ounce and to smoke it in public. And it would still be a crime to drive under the influence. Further, the drug would continue to be illegal under federal law.

Amendment 44 is a matter of statewide concern, but one in which the feds surely have an interest.

As the Camera reported last month, DEA agent Michael Moore has sent an e-mail soliciting help in finding a campaign manager to help defeat Amendment 44. Moore notes that the group has raised $10,000 to fight the initiative, and he asks those interested in helping to call him at his DEA office.

The e-mail, which was sent from a private account, lists his work phone number and government e-mail address.

Under Colorado law, state workers may not may not campaign for or against any ballot issue or candidate on the job, and they may not use public resources such as government phone lines and e-mail accounts for political advocacy.

But federal law gives greater leeway for federal employees. The Hatch Act of 1939 bars employees from campaigning in partisan politics, but allows them to campaign for or against non-partisan ballot issues. It also prohibits federal employees from using "his or her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election."

A federal agent who uses the imprimatur of his office — and his government phone number and e-mail address — to solicit help in defeating a state ballot issue would be apparently violating the rule against using "official authority" to affect an election. But there are exceptions to the rule, and the DEA appears to be exploiting one.

Jeff Sweetin, the special agent in charge of the DEA's Denver office, told the Camera that voters are entitled to change drug laws. At the same time, he argued, the DEA is entitled to inform people that marijuana should remain an illegal drug.

"My mantra has been, 'If Americans use the democratic process to make change, we're in favor of that," he said. "We're in favor of the democratic process. But as a caveat, we're in favor of it working based on all the facts. ...

"The American taxpayer does have a right to have the people they've paid to become experts in this business tell them what this is going to do," he said. "They should benefit from this expertise."

That argument would be more compelling if it were more germane. No one argues that Agent Moore, Special Agent Sweetin should not express their expert opinions on Amendment 44. That is their right under federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

The question is whether it is proper for a federal worker to invoke his employer's name and use a government phone line and e-mail account to try to defeat a citizen initiative. And the answer is "no."

Complete Title: Drug Election Agency: Feds Shouldn't Use Offices To Keep U.S. Off The Grass

Newshawk: Mayan
Source: Daily Camera (Boulder, CO)
Published: September 3, 2006
Copyright: 2006 The Daily Camera
 

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