Bush Appointee Nominated by Obama to Head DEA

Jan 27, 2010


President Obama has nominated the acting head of the DEA, Michele Leonhart, to take on the post permanently. We have been generally happy with the Justice Department during Obama’s freshman year, but it would be nice to see a new face at the DEA. Here’s why.

Early in Leonhart’s career, she was the Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Division, where she oversaw President George W. Bush’s brutal tactic of raiding and arresting medical marijuana patients. Most readers will remember the raids on dispensaries that were part of the former president’s war on drugs until 2009, but during the early years of the Bush administration, these raids were directed at individual patients, not just distributors. This show of force was a political message meant to undermine state medical marijuana laws. Bush was so smitten with Leonhart’s work fighting innocent cancer patients that he promoted her to deputy director in 2003.

In that role, Leonhart rejected the application of Professor Lyle Craker of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to research marijuana’s medical value. Professor Craker was proposing the kind of project considered essential if marijuana is ever to be licensed by the FDA as a prescription medicine, and a DEA administrative law judge ruled in Craker’s favor. Leonhart, however, ignored the judge’s ruling and denied the application. Her reasons were transparently phony: an ideological opposition to medical marijuana dressed up in pseudoscientific language. This is precisely the sort of nonsense Obama has pledged to end.

At a news conference in April, Michele Leonhart said that legalizing drugs "would be a failed law enforcement strategy for both the U.S. and Mexico." That’s certainly not change I can believe in.