As if we needed more proof the DEA is utterly out of step with mainstream America. The agency’s top official complained to a group of American sheriffs in January that she didn’t like what her own president had to say recently about marijuana legalization.
Michele M. Leonhart told the sheriffs she was unhappy with Obama’s comments to David Remnick, an editor at The New Yorker. The president told Remnick he didn’t think weed is any more dangerous than alcohol – and may be less so.
Obama didn’t go so far as to endorse legal pot, but his comments were the closest he has come yet. The Department of Justice announced last summer that it wouldn’t interfere with states that legalize as long as they enforce certain federal priorities, such as keeping cannabis away from kids.
The DEA is part of the Justice Department, but don’t tell that to anyone in charge of the agency. The anti-drug squad is known for going rogue, ignoring presidential policy in an effort to hype the drug war and justify its own extraordinary budgets.
This is especially true when it comes to marijuana. Twenty-one states now allow medical cannabis, and two of those have legalized recreational weed as well. The first retail stores opened in Colorado Jan. 1.
Federal policy is liberalizing too, as witnessed by the announcement from Justice. But DEA officials insist on fighting an old-school war on pot, no matter what their superiors tell them.
Heads of federal agencies rarely go around telling private groups they oppose official government policy or the president. It’s a violation of the civil chain of command, something the paramilitary types at the DEA should appreciate.
As usual, Leonhart turned to outdated “science” to back her argument that pot is as bad as heroin and ecstasy. This is the avowed position of the DEA: Marijuana is a Schedule 1 narcotic too dangerous for public consumption and always will be, come hell, high water, presidential order or congressional legislation.
Thomas M. Hodgson, a sheriff from Massachusetts, said Leonhart received a standing ovation from the conservative drug warriors.
“She’s frustrated for the same reasons we are,” Hodgson said. “She said she felt the administration didn’t understand the science enough to make those statements. She was particularly frustrated with the fact that, according to her, the White House participated in a softball game with a pro-legalization group. . . . But she said her lowest point in 33 years in the DEA was when she learned they’d flown a hemp flag over the Capitol on July 4. The sheriffs were all shocked. This is the first time in 28 years I’ve ever heard anyone in her position be this candid.”
Leonhart now apparently believes she’s in a position to dictate policy to those above her. The DEA, she seems to believe, is a policy-making organization rather than merely a law enforcement agency. It remains to be seen whether Obama, or Congress, will ever have the guts to prove her wrong.