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Law Enforcement: DEA Spent $123,000 on Administrator's Flight to Colombia

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has a fleet of 106 airplanes, but instead of using one of them, the agency spent $123,000 to fly Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart to Colombia last fall, the McLatchy Newspapers reported Monday. Oh, and it paid another $5,830 to a contractor to arrange the flight with an outside company.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/micheleleonhart.jpg
Big Spender: DEA acting administrator Michele Leonhart
The trip came as the nation was sliding into its worst economic crisis in recent memory and the federal budget deficit was approaching heretofore unknown territory. It came just weeks before Detroit auto executives were royally reamed by Congress for flying to Washington in their corporate jets to beg for bailouts.

"Was it excessive? I guess you could look at it that way, but I don't think so," said William Brown, the special agent in charge of the agency's aviation division. He explained that the plane that would normally carry Leonhart was undergoing scheduled maintenance. "I understand the concern about costs for these things. But we do our best to keep costs under control. I think the DEA is very conservative compared to other agencies."

Typically, if a DEA plane is not available for official trips, the agency can borrow one from another federal agency. Although Brown had a week to prepare for the trip, he said he did not even consider that. "It would definitely be more cost effective for us to borrow somebody else's resource," he said. "But they're going to have to pay for it, as well."

Another option would have been a commercial airliner, but Brown said Leonhart and other officials were under "specific threat" in Colombia. But he refused to be more specific, and an unnamed US Embassy official in Bogota said he was unaware of any specific threats.

While the $123,000 flight was only a drop in the DEA's budget, it raised a red flag, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "It looks bad," Ellis said. "Clearly, the DEA or any federal agency should be watching their budgets more closely in these difficult times."

A Failed Drug Strategy Isn’t the Only Way DEA Wastes our Money

Looks like someone forgot to tell DEA about the economic crisis:

WASHINGTON — The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration spent more than $123,000 to charter a private jet to fly to Bogota, Colombia, last fall instead of taking one of the agency's 106 planes.

The DEA paid a contractor an additional $5,380 to arrange Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart's trip last Oct. 28-30 with an outside company.

The DEA scheduled the trip as the nation was reeling from the worst economic crisis in decades and the national debt was climbing toward $10 trillion. Three weeks later, lawmakers slammed chief executive officers from three automakers for flying to Washington in private jets as Congress debated whether to bail out the auto industry. [McClatchy]

Of course, a DEA official assures us that this was all necessitated by a security threat:

Brown said the administrator couldn't have taken a commercial flight because she and other officials who were traveling with her were under "specific" threat in Colombia at the time. He wouldn't reveal details about the threat, saying only that it was of a "sensitive law-enforcement nature." He added that the threat prompted him to conclude that "a government aircraft would provide a level of security not available on a commercial aircraft."

Makes sense, but…

A U.S. official in Colombia, however, said that officials there weren't aware of any threat against Leonhart other than the general insecurity in the country due to the drug trade.

Interesting. Seriously, how much longer is going to take the Obama Administration to replace Michele Leonhart? Crap like this is nothing compared to the medical marijuana raids, but it serves as yet another reminder that DEA is a rogue agency that just does whatever it wants all the time.

Feature: DEA Raids More California Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, Prompting Obama Administration to Reiterate Pledge to Stop Them

(Please participate in our action alert and our Facebook petition.)

DEA agents raided four medical marijuana dispensaries in the Los Angeles area Tuesday, hitting two in Venice, one in Marina Del Rey, and one in Playa del Rey. The raids come nearly two weeks after President Obama took office and on the same day that Eric Holder was confirmed as head of the Justice Department, the agency that oversees DEA operations. They mark the second such incident taking place under the Obama administration, the first being a January 22nd raid of a medical marijuana dispensary in South Lake Tahoe.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/sfdispensaryraid.jpg
DEA and SFPD dispensary raid, May 2008 (courtesy Bay Area Indymedia)
President Obama made repeated campaign pledges to halt the raids on dispensaries operating within California's medical marijuana laws, and by Wednesday night, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro was telling the Washington Times that the raids would end once new DOJ officials are appointed.

"The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws, and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind," Shapiro said.

The raids came a day before the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) announced it had commissioned a poll by Zogby International that found overwhelming support for ending the DEA raids. The poll asked the question: "During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he would stop federal raids against medical marijuana providers in the 13 states where medical marijuana has become legal. Should President Obama keep his word to end such raids?"

More than two-to-one in all geographic, demographic, and political groups answered "yes." Overall, 72% of respondents said stop the raids.

No one was arrested in Tuesday's raids, but as is typically the case, DEA agents broke down doors and seized marijuana destined for patients as well as cash and computers. Several dispensary operators told California activist organizations that agents acted even more aggressively than usual.

"Those raids were little more than piracy," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "The conduct of the agents was unprofessional and vindictive. They call them 'investigations,' but they just go in there and steal medicine and money and smash things."

Gieringer cited reports he had received that DEA agents destroyed surveillance cameras at at least one location, possibly destroyed a computer hard drive at another, and took bags of cash without counting it or providing a receipt from another.

"Whose interest does that serve?" asked Gieringer. "And not counting the cash, that's a real no-no. This whole thing needs to be investigated; it's not serving any legitimate purpose. And they picked on places that were modest, well-controlled, legal under state law, and no trouble to anybody. That's pretty scummy."

Drug War Chronicle contacted all four dispensaries hit by the DEA Tuesday, but in each case, either no one was available or no one was willing to talk about the raids. Nor did Los Angeles DEA spokesperson Sarah Pullen, who usually talks to the Chronicle, respond to repeated requests for comment.

Pullen did talk to the Los Angeles Times, but she didn't have much to say. "I can't get into details as to the probable cause behind the warrants except for the fact that they're dealing with marijuana, which is illegal under federal law," she said.

But Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), said allegations of DEA misconduct during raids are nothing new. "We have received repeated reports of DEA agents not counting cash or providing receipts, as well as instances of agents damaging surveillance cameras placed in facilities to record what is going on inside and outside," he said. "A few months ago in Long Beach, while the federal agents were smashing video cameras, other cameras were recording them doing so and sending the images to an off-site server, so, in this case, at least, we have video evidence of them doing just what they are again accused of."

Hermes also noted that even without the extracurricular activities, the DEA raids on dispensaries are heavy-handed and thuggish. "If you look at them smashing doors and windows and leveling any property in a facilty, that's pretty routine, and has been happening for the past couple of years," he said. "They go in with paramilitary gear, with flak jackets, automatic weapons, sometimes even wearing ski masks, destroy what's inside, and take medicine, money, computers, and patient records, and trash the place."

"This is upsetting," said Bruce Mirken, San Francisco-based communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "It's impossible to know at this point how high up this was authorized or whether it was Bush holdovers still doing what they've been doing, but candidate Obama made a promise on this, and it's time for him to keep it," he declared Wednesday, prior to the White House response appearing in the media.

"That should mean it's time for a major housecleaning at DEA, and that's the right thing to do, not only morally, but also politically," Mirken said. "California voted for Obama, as did 11 of the 13 medical marijuana states, including traditionally Republican states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico that flipped into the Obama column in the November elections. And medical marijuana outpolled Obama in Michigan. There is no downside for Obama in doing the right thing."

Mirken was singing a significantly happier tune by Thursday morning. "The White House comments last night are very significant," he said. "This is a historic break with 13 years of federal policy since Proposition 215 passed in 1996. The simple decision that federal resources should not be used to undermine state medical marijuana laws is a fundamental change from the policies pursued not only by Bush, but also by Clinton," he said.

"A lot will depend, of course, on the follow-through," Mirken continued, "but this is a clear signal to the folks at DEA that the game has changed. Now, we will have to see what happens next, both with ensuring that the raids actually stop, and more broadly, that the Obama administration adopts the general theme about respecting science and basing policy on facts rather than ideology. This, I think, marks the beginning of the end of a tragic and stupid federal policy, and all I can say is thank god."

During the long-lived presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama stated in August 2007 that he "would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users... It's not a good use of our resources." In March 2008, he reiterated that: "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue."

Two months after that, an Obama spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle: "Voters and legislators in the states -- from California to Nevada to Maine -- have decided to provide their residents suffering from chronic diseases and serious illnesses like AIDS and cancer with medical marijuana to relieve their pain and suffering. Obama supports the rights of states and local governments to make this choice."

Not surprisingly, ASA, the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group, jumped in with calls for President Obama and Attorney General Holder to turn promises into policy. "As the new Attorney General, one of Eric Holder's top priorities should be to end these harmful raids on state-sanctioned medical marijuana providers," said ASA director of government affairs Caren Woodson. "And, until a new head of the DEA is confirmed, Holder has a responsibility to cease the existing policy being carried out by Bush Administration officials. Attorney General Holder has the ability to halt this harmful and outdated policy," said Woodson. "And he should do so immediately."

Other drug policy groups joined the chorus as well. "When President Bush was on the campaign trail in 2000 he promised not to interfere in state medical marijuana laws, but that turned out to be a lie as the DEA proceeded to terrorize medical marijuana patients and providers by raiding dozens of dispensaries across California," said Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "President Obama said on the campaign trail that these raids would end under his administration and millions believed him. We hope these recent raids don't represent official administration policy and that Obama will order federal agencies in no uncertain terms to stop harassing medical marijuana patients and providers in California."

"President Obama needs to show federal agencies who is boss," said DPA national affairs director Bill Piper. "If he doesn't put a halt to these raids, the DEA will continue to undermine his campaign promises."

By Thursday morning, ASA was tentatively congratulating the White House for its reiteration of those campaign pledges. "More than 72 million people live in a state that has enacted laws that authorize the limited use and distribution of cannabis for therapeutic use," Woodson said. "The White House's comments have provided patients and their loved ones a sense of relief, and we hope the President and our Attorney General will keep this pledge in mind when considering appointments to the DEA and Office of National Drug Control Policy."

Perhaps, finally, a new day is dawning when it comes to the federal government's stance on medical marijuana. But the weeks and month to come are what will tell.

White House Says Medical Marijuana Raids Will End

Friends, this is a moment we’ve been anticipating for a long time:

The White House said it expects those kinds of raids to end once Mr. Obama nominates someone to take charge of DEA, which is still run by Bush administration holdovers.

"The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws, and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said. [Washington Times]

It looks like we’re on the verge of a major victory for state medical marijuana laws. For over a decade, this battle has raged from the hills of California to the Nation’s Capital. It has been a defining cause, not only for the medical marijuana community, but for drug policy reform as a whole.

There is no question that a great many challenges remain in our path, but let’s all take a moment to reflect on the fact that our president is poised to order the DEA to stand down. That is not something that happens easily or often. Today’s news suggests the pending culmination of a substantial effort by a broad coalition that is frequently perceived to lack meaningful political leverage. The political landscape is changing before our eyes and I believe we have much to look forward to.

(Please participate in our online action alert and our Facebook petition on this issue.)

Protest Rally Against DEA Raids

While the DEA continues to stage medical marijuana raids in California, nearly three-quarters (72%) of voters think President Obama should honor his campaign pledge to end the raids, according to a poll of 1,053 likely voters by Zogby International. Please join us for this rally/protest! For more information, contact Dale Gieringer at dale@canorml.org or (415) 563- 5858.
Date: 
Thu, 02/05/2009 - 12:00pm
Location: 
255 E. Temple St.
Los Angeles, CA
United States

DEA Raids Again! Call Obama Now!

What Part of ‘Change’ Does DEA not Understand?
For the Second Time, DEA Ignores Obama's Statements, Raids Four L.A. Dispensaries

Dear ASA Supporter,

They must think we’re just going to sit back and take it.

Yesterday, the DEA simultaneously raided four medical cannabis dispensing collectives in Los Angeles. This is the second time, in as many weeks, that the DEA has defied President Obama’s campaign pledges to not use federal resources to undermine state medical cannabis laws.

Our community is in an uproar and we are not going to take this lying down! We need you to ACT!.

The L.A. Times even published an article suggesting that maybe DEA hadn’t gotten the memo that Bush is out?

The U.S. Senate just confirmed Attorney General Eric Holder to lead the Department of Justice under the Obama Administration. We expect this to be the FIRST and LAST of the DEA raids under Eric Holder’s leadership. President Obama said he would stop the raids, and we aim to hold him to his word.

Enough is enough! Please make two short phone calls so that both the President and the Attorney General know that people are sick and tired of DEA interference and intimidation in medical cannabis states. Tell your federal government that you will not tolerate wasteful spending by having DEA harass innocent civilians with smash and grab tactics.

First call President Obama at (202) 456-1111, and then call Attorney General Eric Holder at (202) 353-1555. Be sure to call during office hours, Monday – Friday, 9am -5pm.

Use this script for both:

"Hi, my name is ___________. For the second time under President Obama, the DEA conducted raids on multiple medical marijuana dispensaries in California, despite the President’s pledge to end federal threats, intimidation, and interference in states that have medical marijuana laws. Patients and providers should not have to live in fear of the DEA. Please help us and stop these raids now!."

This is our chance under President Obama. We have to get his attention, and we need your help.

Sincerely,


George Pappas
Field Coordinator
Americans for Safe Access

P.S. For more information, visit www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/DEARaidObama.

Location: 
CA
United States

More Medical Marijuana Raids in California

You Can Make a Difference

 

 

Dear friends,

Who's really in charge here?

While on the campaign trail, President Obama promised to end medical marijuana raids in places like California where the right to use marijuana on a doctor's recommendation is protected.

And now, the DEA has raided not one, but at least four medical marijuana dispensaries in California. Either those were hollow promises or President Obama's Department of Justice is not respecting his stated positions.

Sick patients who use medical marijuana in states like California are in grave danger from these wasteful abuses of federal power. You can do something to help.

Last week, thousands of DPA Network supporters like you faxed the White House imploring President Obama to end these raids. He has yet to respond -- so now is the time to take the next step.

By taking just a few moments to call the White House now and urge President Obama to honor his campaign promise to end these raids, you can protect sick and dying patients. There are detailed instructions on the website.

DPA Network is already working behind the scenes with our allies in Congress to pressure the new administration to stand up for justice. Together, we can ensure the safety of patients across the country, but only if you take action.

I'll be sure to keep you posted as the situation continues to develop. 

Sincerely,





Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance Network

P.S. Did you miss my note last week regarding Obama and Medical Marijuana? It's not too late to join the more then 3,100 people who've faxed the White House on this issue. You can also read the news about the most recent raid, and I've pasted below the phone number for the White House, but it's most helpful for coordination efforts if you use the take action button above and log your call.

Who to Contact: The White House, at (202) 456 - 1414.

What to Say: "I just read that the DEA made several raids recently on medical marijuana patients and providers in California. I’m calling to urge President Obama to put a stop to this."

Additional Talking Points (choose one):

  • "I'm mad that my tax dollars are being used to harass cancer and AIDS patients."

 

  • "I know that President Obama said last year that if he was president he wouldn’t waste law enforcement resources undermining state medical marijuana laws. I really hope he puts a stop to these wasteful raids."

 

  • "President Bush spent eight years undermining state medical marijuana laws. I hope President Obama doesn't spend eight years doing the same."

 

  • “I support medical marijuana and hope Obama does, too."
Location: 
CA
United States

Press Release: DEA Defies Obama Pledge, Raids Medical Marijuana State, Denies Marijuana FDA Research

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JANUARY 29, 2009 CONTACT: Dan Bernath, MPP assistant director of communications, 202-462-5747, ext. 2030 DEA Defies Obama Pledge, Raids Medical Marijuana State, Denies Marijuana FDA Research Medical Marijuana Advocates Call on New President to Rein in Rogue Drug Enforcement Administration WASHINGTON — Officials at the Marijuana Policy Project today accused the Drug Enforcement Administration of defying President Barack Obama's stated position by raiding a California medical marijuana dispensary and called on the president to immediately replace Bush administration holdovers at the DEA. The DEA raided a medical marijuana dispensary in Lake Tahoe, Calif., Jan. 22 – only two days after President Obama's inauguration. During the presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly promised not to waste federal resources interfering in states with laws protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest, and he told Southern Oregon's Mail Tribune editorial board on March 28, 2008, "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue." MPP also urged President Obama to instruct the Bush-appointed current administrator of the DEA to delay a final ruling on a Motion to Reconsider its Jan. 12 decision to deny an application by a University of Massachusetts-Amherst researcher to grow research-grade marijuana in a secure facility, arguing that Obama's own administrator should get to make that decision once in place. The DEA's Jan. 12 denial was one among a series of unrelated 11th-hour regulatory actions the Bush administration attempted to finalize before leaving office. The DEA could rule on the motion as early as Monday unless the White House stops Bush holdover, Michele Leonhart, the DEA administrator. The DEA's Jan. 12 decision came nearly two years after the its own administrative law judge, Mary Ellen Bittner, ruled that approving the application would "be in the public's interest" and after years of delay on the part of the Bush administration. "On the first day of the new administration, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel issued a memo to departments and agencies directing them to hold off on issuing final regulations until President Obama's appointees have a chance to review them," said Aaron Houston, MPP director of government relations. "We're just asking for the same thing here. We'd like a fair hearing from new leadership at the DEA." With more than 26,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit www.MarijuanaPolicy.org. ####

Bush holdovers raid medical marijuana dispensary

Dear friends:

Yesterday — with the leadership of the Department of Justice in flux while Attorney General-designate Eric Holder awaits confirmation by the Senate — Bush administration holdovers raided a medical marijuana dispensary in South Lake Tahoe, California.

President Obama vowed repeatedly during his campaign to stop such raids if elected, and we have every reason to believe he will make good on that promise. However, four top positions at the DEA are still filled by Bush cronies, who are attempting to undercut the president's pledge.

Would you please take one minute to use MPP’s easy online system to e-mail the president and ask him to get his new leadership in place at the DEA quickly, so that these cruel and outdated policies finally end? 

President Obama has promised that arresting patients and raiding clinics in states where medical marijuana is legal won't be acceptable on his watch. Getting political appointees in place takes time, but yesterday the Bush holdovers showed that we must move swiftly.

Please write the White House today to urge the president to quickly place his new leaders at the DEA.

You can see some of the statements the president has made about medical marijuana (generally in response to questions from MPP) here.

Please send your e-mail right away. (You can also call the White House at 202-456-1111.)

Thank you,

Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $2.35 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2009. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

Location: 
South Lake Tahoe, CA
United States

Press Release: First Medical Marijuana Raid by DEA under Obama Administration Advocates call on president Obama to quickly change harmful, outdated policy

[Courtesy of Americans for Safe Access] For Immediate Release: January 22, 2009 Contact: ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes at 510-681-6361 First Medical Marijuana Raid by DEA under Obama Administration Advocates call on president Obama to quickly change harmful, outdated policy Oakland, CA -- The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided a medical marijuana dispensary today in South Lake Tahoe, California, in the first days of the new Obama Administration. Even though President Barack Obama had made repeated promises during his election campaign to end federal raids in medical marijuana states, many high-ranking Bush Administration officials have yet to leave office. For example, still at the helm of the DEA is acting Administrator Michele Leonhart, who has been responsible for numerous federal raids in California, following in the footsteps of her predecessor Karen Tandy. Neither Eric Holder, President Obama's pick for U.S. Attorney General, nor a new DEA Administrator, have taken office yet. "Whether or not this unconscionable raid on a medical marijuana provider is the fault of federal officials from the previous administration, President Obama has an opportunity to change this harmful and outdated policy," said Caren Woodson, Director of Government Affairs for Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "We are hopeful that these are the last remnants of the Bush regime and that President Obama will quickly develop a more compassionate policy toward our most vulnerable citizens." Medical marijuana and an unknown amount of cash was seized during the raid today from Holistic Solutions, but no arrests were made. This first DEA raid under the new Obama Administration is another example of more than 100 raids on medical marijuana providers that have occurred in California over the past two years. While the greatest federal enforcement has occurred in California, the DEA has been active in other states as well. Federal agents raided the Washington State offices of a medical marijuana advocacy group that was supplying starter plants to hundreds of authorized patients. In Oregon, a federal grand jury was used by the DEA to obtain the medical records of several patients, an effort that was later rejected by a federal court. The DEA also went as far as to threaten New Mexico officials for planning to implement that states medical marijuana distribution program. "I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users," Senator Obama said in an August 2007 statement. "It's not a good use of our resources," he continued. This statement was followed up by Obama in other public events in the run up to the election. "President Obama must rise to the occasion by quickly correcting this problem and by keeping the promise he made to the voters of this country," said Woodson. ASA has been working with the new Administration on changing federal law around medical marijuana, which has included providing a comprehensive set of policy recommendations. Further information: Comments by Obama on ending medical marijuana raids: http://granitestaters.com/candidates/barack_obama.html ASA medical marijuana recommendations for incoming president Barack Obama: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/PresidentialRecommendations # # #
Location: 
South Lake Tahoe, CA
United States

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