|Photo: Huffington Post|
|Michele Leonhart, just confirmed by the Senate as administrator of the DEA, is a Bush-era drug warrior who has overseen raids of legal medical marijuana dispensaries|
The U.S. Senate has unanimously confirmed Michele Leonhart, a Bush-era holdover who has overseen dozens of federal raids on medical marijuana providers and producers, to head the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
“Ms. Leonhart’s actions and ambitions are incompatible with state law, public opinion, and with the policies of this administration,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “It is unlikely that we will see any serious change in the DEA’s direction under Ms. Leonhart’s leadership.”
Leonhart had served as interim director of the agency since November 2007. President Barack Obama nominated Leonhart in February 2010 to serve as the agency’s permanent director, NORML reports.
Numerous drug policy reform groups, including NORML, Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and others had opposed Leonhart’s confirmation, arguing that her actions as interim DEA administrator violated the Obama Administration’s pledge to allow science, rather than politics, rhetoric and ideology, to guide public policy.
The federal medical marijuana raids overseen by Leonhart took place in states that have enacted laws legalizing the use and distribution of cannabis for medical purposes, and are inconsistent with an October 19, 2009 Department of Justice memo recommending federal officials no longer “focus… resources… on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”
Even after the DOJ memo instructing federal prosecutors to no longer target legal medical marijuana providers, the DEA, under Leonhart’s “leadership,” continued to raid individuals and collectives operating under state law.
For example, DEA agents in July flouted a pioneering Mendocino County, California ordinance to regulate medical marijuana cultivation by raiding the very first grower to register with the sheriff.
|Steve Fox, MPP: “The DEA needs to adopt a policy whereby agents consult with local law enforcement… before they raid and seize private property”|
”In order to comply with the Justice Department’s directive, the DEA needs to adopt a policy whereby agents consult with local law enforcement to determine whether someone is in compliance with local laws — before they raid and seize private property,” said Steve Fox, director of government relations with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
Leonhart also blocked scientific research that could have better identified and quantified marijuana’s medicinal properties and effectiveness. In particular, she neglected to reply to an eight-year-old petition calling for hearings regarding the rescheduling of marijuana to allow medical use.
Such hearings were called for in 2009 by the American Medical Association, which resolved “that marijuana’s status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines.”
|Photo: Philly NORML|
|Neill Franklin, LEAP: “…tens of thousands of civilian deaths… should not be measured as a sign of success”|
Additionally, in January 2009, Leonhart refused to issue a license [PDF] to the University of Massachusetts that would allow marijuana cultivation for FDA-approved research, despite a DEA administrative law judge’s ruling that it would be “in the public interest” to grant that request.
Leonhart has also shown questionable judgment when talking about the esclating Drug War violence in Mexico. In 2009, she called this border violence — responsible for more than 31,000 deaths since December 2006 — as a sign of the “success” of the DEA’s anti-drug strategies.
“The tens of thousands of civilian deaths, which have continued to skyrocket since Ms. Leonhart’s statement, should not be measured as sign of success,” said Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore narcotics cop who is now executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “The situation in Mexico is grave and escalating rapidly, putting U.S. citizens in danger.”
In December, Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl had placed a hold on Leonhart’s nomination. Sen. Kohl dropped his hold on December 22, and the Senate confirmed Leonhart’s nomination the next day.