Congress to vote on amendments for reigning in troubled Drug Enforcement Administration
Today, the House is set to vote on at least four amendments checking the DEA’s power and cutting its budget.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has existed for more than 40 years, but little attention has been given to the role the agency has played in fueling mass incarceration, racial disparities and other problems exacerbated by the drug war. Congress has rarely scrutinized the agency, its actions or its budget, instead deferring to DEA Administrators on how best to deal with drug-related issues. That all has changed recently as more members of Congress have called out the DEA and its beleaguered head, Administrator Michele Leonhart.
“There’s unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on drugs and letting states set their own drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The more the DEA blocks sensible reforms the more they will see their agency’s power and budget come under deeper scrutiny.”
One bipartisan amendment would prohibit the DEA from undermining state medical marijuana laws. It is being offered by six Republicans and six Democrats: Reps. Rohrabacher (R-CA), Farr (D-CA), Young (R-AK), Blumenauer (D-OR), McClintock (R-CA), Cohen (D-TN), Broun (R-GA), Polis (D-CO), Stockman (R-TX), Lee (D-CA), Amash (R-MI) and Titus (D-NV). A vote several weeks ago on allowing Veteran Administration doctors to discuss medical marijuana with their patients received 195 yes votes. Support for letting states set their own marijuana policy without federal interference is rising quickly.
In an op-ed on the conservative Daily Caller by Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist and Drug Policy Alliance’s Ethan Nadelmann, write: “[The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment] is the best way right now to stop the federal government from undermining both state laws and the will of a substantial majority of Americans.”
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that nearly three-in-four Americans (72%) believe that efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth, including 78% of independents, 71% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans. There is strong support for state medical marijuana programs, with 80% of Democrats, 76% of Independents, and 61% of Republicans supporting the sale and use of medical marijuana in their state.
Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have laws that legalize and regulate marijuana for medicinal purposes: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
Ten states have laws on the books or about to be signed into law by their governors regulating CBD oils, a non-psychotropic component of medical marijuana which some parents are utilizing to treat their children’s seizures: Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin.
Another bipartisan amendment being offered by Rep. Massie (D-KY), Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) would prohibit the DEA from blocking implementation of a federal law approved by Congress last year that allows hemp cultivation for research purposes in states that allow it. A second hemp amendment being offered by Rep. Bonamici (D-OR) would prohibit the DEA from undermining state laws that allow hemp cultivation. Hemp is not legal to grow in the U.S., though hemp products can be produced and sold in the U.S. Some states have made its cultivation legal, but these states – North Dakota, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, California, Montana, West Virginia and Vermont – have not yet begun to grow it because of resistance from the DEA. A few months ago, Congress legalized the production of hemp for research purposes in states that want to allow it. But when Kentucky recently tried to import hemp seeds to begin production, the DEA seized the seeds. Kentucky officials, including Kentucky Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were angered.
A fourth amendment being offered by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) would cut the DEA’s budget by $35 million. DEA was allocated $35m more than the agency itself asked for, via the President’s FY15 budget request, and $35m more than both chambers of Congress awarded it in FY14. Opponents of the agency say the troubled agency doesn’t deserve a raise.
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. Attorney General Eric Holder recently scolded her. Criminal justice reformers have said Leonhart lacks the ability to lead and should resign. Activists are using the Twitter hashtag #FireLeonhart.
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 in 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,” said Piper. “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. It is time for her to go.”
Press Release: Drug Policy Alliance
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