Potential New DEA Head Applauded by Leading Drug Policy Reform Advocates

Press Release March 24, 2011
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Tony Newman at 510-208-7711 or Shayna Samuels at 212-547-6916

(Washington, DC) — Despite his firm record in support of the war on drugs, U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson made several statements today at his confirmation hearing to head the Drug Enforcement Administration supporting a review of changes in drug policy.

Under questioning from Senator Patrick Leahy, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Hutchinson stated that he “would support a review by Congress” of mandatory minimum prison sentences. In addition, he reiterated his long time support of ending racial profiling. Senators on the committee alluded to the racially disproportionate impact of mandatory minimum sentences and crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing disparities, which have led to a 26-fold increase in African American prison inmates compared to a 7-fold increase in white inmates between 1983 and 1998. Such an increase cannot be explained by differences in drug consumption.

“A bi-partisan consensus is growing against some of the drug war’s most destructive consequences,” said William D. McColl, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Lindesmith Center – Drug Policy Foundation, a leading drug policy reform organization. “President Bush, the Democratic Chair of the Judiciary Committee, and now the DEA nominee have all expressed a desire to review mandatory minimums and racial profiling.”

In addition to praising Hutchinson’s willingness to evaluate mandatory minimums and racial profiling, drug policy reform advocates are also urging him to review the issue of treatment and pain management, which fall under the DEA’s direct jurisdiction.

“Decisions over which drugs can be used to treat pain and addiction should be based on scientific evidence and compassion for patients,” said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of Lindesmith-DPF. “This ultimate authority should rest in the hands of experienced medical bodies, not a federal police agency.”

Right now doctors fear punitive consequences for prescribing opiate and other pain and treatment medications, limiting availability for patients suffering from chronic pain or addiction. For example, the U.S. is increasingly alone in prohibiting private physicians and public health clinics from providing methadone maintenance to treat heroin addiction. The DEA has also ignored strong evidence regarding the medical value of marijuana to help cancer and AIDS patients, rejecting both the conclusion of the DEA’s own administrative law judge and the Institute of Medicine.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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