A coalition of five drug reform organizations called Wednesday for the Obama administration to withdraw the nomination of Michele Leonhart to be DEA administrator. The career DEA veteran is currently the agency's acting administrator. The groups are the Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Marijuana Policy Project, NORML and its California affiliate, California NORML, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Michele Leonhart with Eric Holder
The call comes in the wake of recent DEA raids against medical marijuana providers in California, Colorado, and Michigan, including one two weeks ago in Mendocino County, California, aimed at the first person to register with the county sheriff under a new cultivation ordinance. Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo instructing the Justice Department, of which the DEA is a part, to not persecute medical marijuana patients and providers who are in compliance with state laws.
In the Mendocino case, in which the DEA raided a collective garden that had been inspected and approved by the local sheriff, a DEA agent reportedly responded to being informed that the sheriff okayed the group by saying, "I don't care what the sheriff says."
The reformers also attacked Leonhart for her January 2009 refusal to issue a license to the University of Massachusetts to grow marijuana for FDA-approved research, despite a DEA administrative judge's determination that such a license would be "in the public interest." With that action, Leonhart blocked privately funded medical marijuana research in the US.
"With Leonhart's nomination pending, one would expect her to be more -- not less -- respectful of the Department of Justice and the rights of individuals in medical marijuana states," said Steve Fox, director of government relations at the Marijuana Policy Project. "Such behavior is an ominous sign for the future of the DEA under her leadership. Moreover, she has continually demonstrated her desire to block privately funded medical marijuana research in this country. The Obama administration has reversed many Bush administration policies over the past 18 months. It is time to transform the culture at the DEA by either withdrawing Leonhart's nomination or directing her to change her attitude toward medical marijuana."
"Michele Leonhart continues to wage war on sick people and their caregivers, undermining the Obama Administration's otherwise compassionate medical marijuana policy," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Obama needs to withdraw her nomination and nominate someone who will follow the stated policies of his administration."
It's not just Leonhart's recent actions that are raising the alarm among reformers. As we reported when she was nominated, Leonhart had a close and friendly relationship with a serial perjuring DEA informant, "super snitch" Andrew Chambers, who was paid $2.2 million by the agency for his work between 1984 and 2000 despite repeated findings by federal courts that he was not believable. Leonhart defended Chambers and his credibility despite all the evidence to the contrary.
As Special Agent in Charge in Los Angeles during the height of the Clinton and Bush administration's persecution of medical marijuana users and providers, Leonhart was an enthusiastic participant and ranking DEA member involved. In January 1998, she stood proudly with then US Attorney Michael Yamaguchi as he announced at a press conference that the government would take action against medical marijuana clubs.
The administration has announced no timeline on moving her nomination forward.