After more than two years as acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Michele Leonhart, who served as deputy DEA administrator during George W. Bush’s presidency, is scheduled to be confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, November 17.
No friends to medical marijuana patients, Leonhart and her former boss, DEA Administrator Karen Tandy, were responsible for more than 200 paramilitary-style raids on patients and their providers.
As acting DEA administrator, Leonhart has continued to raid dispensaries, growers and medical marijuana testing labs despite a change in federal policy under President Obama.
Leonhart is expected to be easily confirmed, but marijuana advocates want to hold her feet to the fire, and are encouraging Senate Judiciary Committee members to ask tough questions about adherence to President Obama’s Justice Department policy and her plans for addressing the growing divide between federal and state medical marijuana laws.
|Caren Woodson, ASA: “We need to know that Leonhart has a plan for medical marijuana and the protection of patients”
”Leonhart’s track record of causing untold harm to patients and their providers over the years is cause for a serious lack of trust in the medical marijuana community,” said Caren Woodson, director of government affairs with Americans for Safe Access
(ASA), a medical marijuana advocacy group which has submitted questions to be asked of Leonhart during the confirmation hearing.
“We need to know that Leonhart has a plan for medical marijuana and the protection of patients and that she will be held accountable for her actions,” Woodson said.
In October 2009, the Obama Administration issued a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys discouraging the use of federal resources to prosecute individuals who are in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with their state medical marijuana laws.
Since then, ASA has tracked more than 30 federal enforcement raids in California, Colorado, Hawaii, and Nevada, all states in which medical marijuana is legal.
By contrast, state and local governments are recognizing the need for, and authorizing methods of, safe distribution of medical marijuana.
In a grassroots push over the next two days, medical marijuana advocates across the country are calling on Senate Judiciary Committee members to ask hard questions of Leonhart.
“Leonhart must look at this as a public health issue and do more to reconcile the conflict between local, state and federal laws,” Woodson said.
In addition to enforcement, as head of the DEA, Leonhart will have authority over an uanswered marijuana rescheduling petition that has been pending since 2002. Filed by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC), the petition originally argued before the Bush Administration that marijuana has medical value and should be rescheduled.
Marijuana is currently federally considered a Scehdule I substance, meaning it supposedly has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical uses.
Now before the Obama Administration, advocates and coalition members are moving toward scientific and mainstream acceptance. This past week it was confirmed that Arizona, which narrowly voted for Proposition 203, would become the nation’s 15th state to legalize medical marijuana.
Under the authority of the Controlled Substances Act, Leonhart has significant control over medical marijuana research in the United States, and has used her position as acting administrator to obstruct the scientific advancement of this important therapeutic substance.
In January 2009, just days before President Bush was to vacate his office, Acting Administrator Leonhart blocked an effort to end federal obstruction of medical marijuana research, completely ignoring an 87-page recommendation from her own DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner, who ruled that such such research was “in the public interest.”
The DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have worked together to block medical marijuana efficacy studies by prioritizing research on the supposed harmful effects of cannabis.
Negotiating the growing divide between state and federal medical marijuana laws will be among the toughest policy challenges facing the next DEA administrator. According to the ASA, the DEA should do more to reconcile the conflict between state and federal laws, but ASA questions whether Leonhart has the leadership necessary to facilitate this change.
ASA is leading the call for compassionate and responsible leadership at the highest levels of government. They are urging patients and medical marijuana advocates to call Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee and tell them to examine Leonhart’s record closely.
“Urge them to use the hearing to determine whether Ms. Leonhart is committed to working with Congress and state officials to develop a comprehensive medical marijuana strategy that respects state law and facilitates safe access to marijuana for therapeutic use and research,” Woodson said.
If you want, you can use this handy phone script provided by ASA:
“Hello. My name is ______________. I am calling to urge Senators on the Judiciary committee to ask Michele Leonhart some tough questions during her confirmation hearing this week. President Obama’s pick to head the DEA authorized hundreds of paramilitary-style enforcement raids on patients and providers who were in clear compliance with their state medical marijuana laws. These raids are a waste of resources and I think more needs to be done to resolve the growing conflict between state and federal law. Please ensure that the next DEA Administrator possesses the leadership necessary to create a national strategy that supports safe and legal access to marijuana for medical purposes.”
ASA urges you to call these members of the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Senator Leahy VT (202) 224-4242
Senator Kohl WI (202) 224-5653
Senator Feinstein CA (202) 224-3841
Senator Feingold WI (202) 224-5323
Senator Specter PA (202) 224-4254
Senator Schumer NY (202) 224-6542
Senator Durbin IL (202) 224-2152
Senator Cardin MD (202) 224-4524
Senator Whitehouse RI (202) 224-2921
Senator Klobuchar MN (202) 224-3244
Senator Kaufman DE (202) 224-5042
Senator Franken MN (202) 224-5641