Blog Post

DEA Chief Should Resign

Bill Piper

For months Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele Leonhart has openly rebuked the drug policy reform policies of Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama with one embarrassing statement after another. Now she is picking a fight with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Y) and other members of Congress over hemp. Meanwhile the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General has launched an investigation into multiple scandals plaguing the agency. It is clear that Leonhart lacks the ability to lead and should resign. Activists are using the Twitter hashtag #FireLeonhart.

The DEA created a political firestorm this week when it seized seeds bound for a Kentucky hemp research program that was approved by Congress. Even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has weighed in, telling Politico last night, “It is an outrage that DEA is using finite taxpayer dollars to impound legal industrial hemp seeds.” The Kentucky Agriculture Department is suing the agency.The seizure is the latest misstep by the agency, which is being investigated by the Department of Justice for numerous scandals.

Earlier this month the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General launched investigations into numerous DEA scandals, including the massacre of civilians in Honduras, the use of NSA data to both spy on virtually all Americans and to systematically fabricate evidence, controversial uses of confidential informants, airline passenger searches, and sexual misconduct. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart herself has been at the center of several scandals, including the House of Death scandal in which the DEA may have turned a blind eye to torture and murder, and the Andrew Chambers scandal, in which the DEA rehired a confidential informant with a history of lying.

Moreover, Leonhart is increasingly publicly opposing drug policy reforms being pursued by her bosses, Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama, and both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. She publicly rebuked President Obama for admitting that marijuana is as safe as alcohol, told members of Congress that the DEA will continue to go after marijuana even in states where it is legal despite DOJ guidance stating otherwise,and has spoken out against bipartisan drug sentencing reform in Congress that the Obama Administration is supporting.

Leonhart has also actively obstructed scientific research, most notably blocking the FDA drug development process for marijuana by refusing to license potential producers of federally-approved research-grade marijuana – such as Dr. Lyle Craker of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, who first applied to the DEA in 2001 to produce marijuana for FDA-approved research. The DEA’s Administrative Law Judge held extensive hearings on the issue and ruled that the DEA should end the federal government’s monopoly on research-grade marijuana by granting Dr. Craker a Schedule One license, but Leonhart unilaterally blocked it. She has also blocked efforts to move marijuana from Schedule I, the same classification as heroin, to a lower schedule that would allow for medical use.

Rep. Steve Cohen and other members have Congress have called on Leonhart to resign. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., says in his dealings with Leonhart he has "found her to be completely incompetent and unknowledgeable." In a bizarre debate with members of Congress Leonhart refused repeatedly to acknowledge that marijuana is safer than cocaine and heroin.

Just last September, more than 120 groups from across the political spectrum and around the globe, including the ACLU, Witness for Peace, Drug Policy Alliance, and the International Drug Policy Consortium sent a letter to Congress and the DOJ calling for an investigation into the DEA for its role a long list of deeply disturbing incidents.

DEA Administrator Leonhart is virtually the only person left who still zealously supports the failed war on drugs. The U.S. and the rest of the world are moving toward an approach that prioritizes public health and legal regulation – but she remains hopelessly committed to the failed war-on-drugs approach. She is plagued with scandals, out of touch with reality, and increasingly an embarrassment to both Attorney General Holder and President Obama. 

It is time for her to go. #FireLeonhart

Bill Piper is the director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s office of national affairs.

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