On Wednesday, interim director Chuck Rosenberg of the Drug Enforcement Agency made some troubling statements regarding medical marijuana.
CBS News reports:
"What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal -- because it's not," Rosenberg said in a briefing to reporters. "We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine -- that is a joke."
"There are pieces of marijuana -- extracts or constituents or component parts -- that have great promise" medicinally, he said. "But if you talk about smoking the leaf of marijuana -- which is what people are talking about when they talk about medicinal marijuana -- it has never been shown to be safe or effective as a medicine."
Doctors in nearly half the states and mountains of research definitively show that whole-plant marijuana is effective at treating a variety of conditions. While it is heartening that the director admits some components of marijuana may have medical value and that it is worth having a discussion about making marijuana legal for adults, these statements show a serious lack of knowledge about the substance, especially for the head of a drug control organization.
Rosenberg took over the agency in April after previous director Michele Leonhart resigned in disgrace following criticism for a number of scandals under her watch and embarrassing statements, including refusing to admit that heroin is more dangerous than marijuana in front of a Congressional panel.
Michele Leonhart is expected to resign from her position as head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to a report from CBS News.
The Marijuana Policy Project called for Leonhart’s resignation last year in a Change.org petition which now has more than 46,000 signatures.
During her tenure as DEA administrator, Leonhart:
-refused to answer a congressman’s question about whether marijuana poses less potential harm to the consumer than crack, heroin, or methamphetamine and criticized President Obama for acknowledging the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer;
-obstructed research into the medical benefits of marijuana by overruling the DEA’s own administrative law judge, who ruled that it would be in the public interest to end the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s monopoly on the supply of marijuana available for approved research;
-oversaw raids of medical marijuana dispensaries that were operating legally under state laws;
-reportedly called it the worst day of her 33 years in law enforcement when an American flag made of hemp was flown over the U.S. Capitol Building; and
-criticized the White House for playing in a softball game against a team of individuals from drug policy reform organizations.
Eric Holder Reigns in DEA Chief Michele Leonhart for Undermining Obama’s Position on Marijuana Sentencing
In recent talks with Attorney General Eric Holder, DEA Chief Michele Leonhart was encouraged to tone down the Drug War propaganda she has been advancing since the Obama administration did not sue the state of Colorado for legalizing marijuana. Since then, she has taken several public stands against the administration’s rhetoric on marijuana legalization and, more recently, lessening the punishment of people who commit federal drug crimes.
According to Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly and Ryan Grim, Leonhart was "called in" by Holder for a "one [on] one chat about her recent insubordination." As a 34-year bureaucrat of the DEA, Leonhart is having a hard time shifting her tone away from the DEA’s aggressive stance against illegal drugs.
Since the talks, Leonhart has said she “supports the Attorney General’s sentencing reform initiative to ensure those sentences are imposed appropriately” through legislation like the Smarter Sentencing Act. This type of legislation would save taxpayers billions of dollars and keep thousands of people out of jail for certain types of nonviolent crimes, like marijuana use, by eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing.
Michele Leonhart’s alignment with the Obama administration’s stance on drug sentencing and marijuana policy creates cautious optimism for change in the prosecution of unnecessary federal arrests.
The DEA has gone rogue. First, an agent describes marijuana regulation in Washington and Colorado as "reckless and irresponsible," contrary to the president's assertion that it's "important for it to go forward." Now, DEA administrator Michele Leonhart has criticized President Obama for, accurately, saying marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol to the consumer. In fact, the science says marijuana is dramatically safer than alcohol, for both the consumer and society.
It is unacceptable for our nation’s top drug cop to not understand the relative risks of America’s two most popular recreational drugs. That’s why we have started a Change.org petition calling on President Obama to fire Michele Leonhart and replace her with someone who will base decisions on science and evidence instead of politics and ideology.
This is the same person who once refused to answer the relatively simple question of whether marijuana is less harmful than heroin or crack cocaine. Her repeated refusal to recognize clear scientific evidence undermines the president’s mandate that "science and the scientific process guide decisions of [his] Administration." She’s got to go.
In this interview posted today, Cato Institute’s Caleb Brown talks with Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) about the federal government’s reaction to the end of marijuana prohibition in Colorado and Washington and the future of marijuana policy reform. Take a few minutes to watch this:
Rep. Cohen is a great ally to reformers, whether he is sponsoring legislation to stop federal interference with state marijuana laws, proposing commissions to examine federal marijuana policy, or grilling DEA Bush-holdover Michele Leonhart on her politically driven inability to understand science.
Harborside targeted by feds while Leader Pelosi stresses importance of federal action on medical marijuana
The Associated Press is reporting that Harborside Health Center, which has been called California’s largest non-profit medical marijuana dispensary, is being targeted by federal prosecutors in California. According to Harborside spokesperson Gaynell Rogers, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s office has threatened to seize the property on which Harborside’s two locations operate: one in Oakland and the other in San Jose.
Meanwhile, the ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives and congresswoman for nearby San Francisco, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, reaffirmed her support for the medical use of marijuana, telling a round table of bloggers that taking up and discussing federal legislation regarding medical marijuana would be “really important.” While she gave no firm promise to introduce specific legislation, her support for medical marijuana patients puts her at odds with the actions of President Barack Obama’s Justice Department.
President Obama would be wise to listen to his party’s ranking member in the House of Representatives as opposed to career drug warriors like DEA chief Michele Leonhart. While Leader Pelosi recognizes the real and growing evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy, Agent Leonhart cannot even bring herself to admit that heroin is more harmful than marijuana. And if science isn’t something that the president and his circle are interested in listening to, they should at least listen to the 77% of the American public who support medical access to marijuana.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) will put a hold on the nomination of Michele Leonhart to be the next administrator of the DEA.
Kohl's beef with Leonhart has nothing to do with her views on marijuana issues, but rather the DEA's work in restricting access to certain prescription pain medications in nursing homes. Still, this represents the strongest opposition to date against Leonhart, who is currently interim DEA head and has played a crucial role in overseeing raids on state-legal medical marijuana collectives and denying applications to do FDA-level research on marijuana.
In recent months, MPP and many of our allies have protested Leonhart's nomination to head the DEA based on concerns over those above-mentioned actions and some less-than-thoughtful comments she has made about the worsening prohibition-fueled violence in Mexico. At her confirmation hearing, Leonhart, a Bush administration holdover, promised Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) that, “If confirmed as administrator, we would continue to enforce the federal drug laws” -- which directly contradicts last year's Department of Justice directive to respect state medical marijuana laws.
Despite those concerns, Leonhart's confirmation seemed all but certain, but Sen. Kohl now has the power to draw the process out for some time. Stay tuned for updates.
There are now 15 states with medical marijuana laws, but at a Senate committee hearing yesterday to confirm the next head of the DEA, not a single person asked nominee Michele Leonhart how she would address this growing divide between state and federal marijuana policy. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R - AL) did, however, take the opportunity to make sure Leonhart will remain a loyal, unquestioning, die-hard drug warrior.
Mike Riggs has the story in today’s Daily Caller:
Perhaps due to the failure of Prop 19 in California (and despite the passage of medical marijuana in Arizona), Kohl, along with Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Al Franken of Minnesota, made no mention of medical marijuana. Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, however, made it his prime focus.
“I’m a big fan of the DEA,” said Sessions, before asking Leonhart point blank if she would fight medical marijuana legalization.
“I have seen what marijuana use has done to young people, I have seen the abuse, I have seen what it’s done to families. It’s bad,” Leonhart said. “If confirmed as administrator, we would continue to enforce the federal drug laws.”
“These legalization efforts sound good to people,” Sessions quipped. “They say, ‘We could just end the problem of drugs if we could just make it legal.’ But any country that’s tried that, Alaska and other places have tried it, have failed. It does not work,” Sessions said.
“We need people who are willing to say that. Are you willing to say that?” Sessions asked Leonhart.
“Yes, I’ve said that, senator. You’re absolutely correct [about] the social costs from drug abuse, especially from marijuana,” Leonhart said. “Legalizers say it will help the Mexican cartel situation; it won’t. It will allow states to balance budgets; it won’t. No one is looking [at] the social costs of legalizing drugs.”
Actually, Ms. Leonhart, there is a vast academic literature exploring the social cost of liberalizing drug laws, and the overwhelming conclusion most studies reach is that prohibition does far more harm than most of the substances themselves ever could, especially marijuana. Riggs cites just one example, a 2009 Cato Institute white paper released eight years after Portgual decriminalized illegal drugs, which concludes: “None of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents — from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for ‘drug tourists’ — has occurred.” He could have also cited another Cato study from this year showing that the U.S. could improve its national budget by nearly $18 billion a year if marijuana were taxed and regulated like alcohol, a legal substance that has eight times the health care costs of marijuana, and is – according to one California study – responsible for 403 times more emergency room admissions than marijuana.
But in the twisted fantasyland where people like Sessions and Leonhart spend most of their time, things like “facts” and “studies” don’t seem to carry as much weight as the unshakeable notion that drugs are bad and so, in positions of authority, “we need people who are willing to say that,” as Sessions put it.
The disgraceful exchange between Leonhart and Sessions is just another example of how the American public is far ahead of politicians when it comes to marijuana policy reform issues, and why our movement will continue to look to individual states – and not the federal government – to drive change.
After serving two years as interim DEA administrator, where she oversaw continued raids on medical marijuana providers and personally rejected an application for FDA-level research on marijuana, Michele Leonhart is scheduled for a confirmation hearing tomorrow before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
President Bush first nominated Leonhart for this position in 2007. The Obama administration re-nominated her in February, even though she has overseen actions that contradict Obama administration directives and made comments that clearly counter reality. The most egregious:
- Despite last year’s Justice Department directive to respect state medical marijuana laws, the DEA under Leonhart’s leadership has repeatedly raided medical marijuana patients and providers who operate under state law. In July, for example, the DEA blatantly ignored a Mendocino County (CA) ordinance to regulate medical marijuana cultivation by raiding the very first grower to register with the sheriff. Joy Greenfield, 68, had paid more than $1,000 for a permit to cultivate 99 plants in a collective garden that had been inspected and approved by the local sheriff. Informed that Ms. Greenfield had the support of the sheriff, the DEA agent in charge responded by saying, “I don’t care what the sheriff says.”
- In January 2009, Leonhart rejected an application from University of Massachusetts professor Lyle Craker to conduct FDA-level research on marijuana in the hopes of getting it rescheduled. In doing so, she opposed recommendations from both a DEA administrative law judge and the American Medical Association.
- Last year Leonhart heralded increased drug violence in Mexico – which has claimed about 30,000 lives in four years – as a sign of success: "Our view is that the violence we have been seeing is a signpost of the success our very courageous Mexican counterparts are having,” she said. “The cartels are acting out like caged animals, because they are caged animals.”
Sources say Leonhart’s confirmation is virtually guaranteed, so our best hope is to make sure senators on the Judiciary Committee ask her tough questions. If your senator sits on the Judiciary Committee, you can urge them to press Leonhart on her plans for the future by clicking here.