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Senate Holds Hearings on Controversial DEA Nominee [FEATURE]

Michele Leonhart's nomination to be Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) administrator appeared to be on track for an easy confirmation after a Wednesday hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The nomination is opposed by the drug reform, medical marijuana, and hemp movements, but insiders say it is all but a done deal.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/mleonhart.jpg
meet the new boss, same as the old boss
While reformers had hoped one or more senators would ask Leonhart "tough questions" about her tenure as acting DEA administrator, that didn't happen. Sens. Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) pressed Leonhart about easing access to pain medications for senior citizens in nursing homes, but that was about the extent of the prodding.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), expressing concern about all that legalization talk in the air, gave Leonhart the opportunity to assure him that she and the DEA stood steadfast. She obliged him.

"I have seen what marijuana use has done to young people," Leonhart said. "I've seen the addiction, the family breakup. I've seen the bad. I'm extremely concerned about the legalization of any drugs," she avowed. "We already have problems with prescription drugs, which are legal, so it's of concern."

Legalizers are singing a seductive siren song, Leonhart warned. "The danger of these legalization efforts, they say we could just end the problem of drugs if we just make it legal," she explained. "But any country that has tried that -- the Netherlands, Alaska -- it has not worked, it is failed public policy."

Leonhart was nominated by President Bush to be administrator at DEA after replacing Karen Tandy in 2007 and has been acting administrator ever since. The Obama administration renominated her as administrator in February, but the nomination languished as the committee dealt with other business, most notably addressing  a backlog of judicial nominations and preparing for confirmation hearings for the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court.

Medical marijuana and drug reform advocacy groups have opposed Leonhart's nomination on a variety of grounds. As Special Agent in Charge of the DEA's Los Angeles office from 1998 to 2004 and DEA deputy administrator from 2003 to 2007, she presided over hundreds of raids on medical marijuana patients and providers. As acting administrator, she ran DEA while California medical marijuana raids continued unabated until the October 2009 Justice Department memorandum  to quit persecuting patients and providers "whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws."

Even since then, while DEA medical marijuana raids have diminished, they have not stopped. According to the medical marijuana support group Americans for Safe Access (ASA), since the memo went out, the DEA under Leonhart has engaged in more than 30 raids of medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal.

"As the deputy director, Ms. Leonhart supervised an unprecedented level of paramilitary-style enforcement raids designed to undermine safe access and the implementation of state medical marijuana programs," ASA said in an alert to its members.

Leonhart is also drawing fire from advocates for overturning a DEA administrative law judge's decision to issue a license to UMass-Amherst Professor Lyle Craker to grow marijuana for FDA-approved research. That decision left intact the federal government's monopoly on the cultivation of marijuana for research purposes. It is grown only at the University of Mississippi.

And she is being opposed as well for her DEA's recalcitrance when it comes to industrial hemp. In a July letter to the committee, the industry group Vote Hemp said it opposed Leonhart's nomination because under her tenure DEA continues to block hemp production in the US, has failed for more than three years to respond to several applications from North Dakota-licensed farmers to grow hemp, and continues to maintain the fiction that hemp is marijuana.

"Michele Leonhart, the nominee for administrator and a lifetime DEA bureaucrat, severely lacks the vision to change policy on hemp farming for the better," the group said.  "Vote Hemp strongly opposes the nomination of Michele Leonhart to be Administrator of the DEA."

There is another reason to question her suitability to run DEA -- her dealings with and defense of one-time DEA "supersnitch" Andrew Chambers. Chambers earned an astounding $2.2 million for his work as a DEA informant between 1984 and 2000. The problem was that he was caught perjuring himself repeatedly. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals called him a liar in 1993, and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals echoed that verdict two years later.

But instead of terminating its relationship with Chambers, the DEA protected him, failing to notify prosecutors and defense attorneys about his record. At one point, DEA and the Justice Department for 17 months stalled a public defender seeking to examine the results of DEA's background check on Chambers. Even after the agency knew its snitch was rotten, it refused to stop using Chambers, and it took the intervention of then Attorney General Janet Reno to force the agency to quit using him.

Michele Leonhart defended Chambers. When asked if, given his credibility problems, the agency should quit using him, she said, "That would be a sad day for DEA, and a sad day for anybody in the law enforcement world... He's one in a million. In my career, I'll probably never come across another Andrew."

Another Leonhart statement on Chambers is even more shocking, as much for what it says about Leonhart as for what Leonhart says about Chambers. "The only criticism (of Chambers) I've ever heard is what defense attorneys will characterize as perjury or a lie on the stand," she said, adding that once prosecutors check him out, they will agree with his DEA admirers that he is "an outstanding testifier."

And then there's her connection to the "House of Death" scandal. The "House of Death" in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, was a house used by the Juárez drug cartel to murder people. Dozens of bodies were eventually recovered when the police raided it. The case revolves around a US Immigration and Customs (ICE) and DEA informant in Mexico, code-named "Lalo," who witnessed (and perhaps took part in) a murder in the House of Death during August 2003. In a lawsuit, whistleblower and former DEA Special Agent Sanalio Gonzalez charges that Leonhart and other officials fired him for speaking out about the murders and then helped cover the scandal up.

A number of reform groups have organized Internet and phone call-in campaigns in a bid to derail the nomination. Students for Sensible Drug Policy, NORML, California NORML, and Firedoglake have all sounded the alarm. So has the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

[Editor's Note: The interviews below were conducted before Wednesday's hearing.]

"We are asking our supporters and followers to contact their representatives if they are serving on the committee and tell them to ask her some tough questions about her previous actions," said MPP communications director Mike Meno. "She presided over hundreds of DEA raids on legal medical marijuana providers during Bush admin, and played a crucial role in rejecting applications to do FDA-level research on marijuana."

ASA provided a list of questions for the committee to ask Leonhart, including how raiding medical marijuana providers was an efficient use of DEA resources, how the DEA might work with medical marijuana states, why the DEA didn't just hand over cases of "clear and unambiguous" violations of state medical marijuana laws to state authorities, and when the DEA might get around to deciding the status of a 2002 petition to reschedule marijuana.

"I was hoping that this nomination was going to die a slow death but it appears as if they are going forward with it," said Tom Murphy, outreach coordinator for Vote Hemp. "We sent a letter in opposition, as I know a number of other organizations have. We've also got a pair of action alerts up on our web site. We've been working it against this since June, and we have a long list of reasons to oppose her nomination."

But it doesn’t appear that the senators on the Judiciary Committee are paying much heed to the stop Leonhart campaign. Despite the protests, her nomination is likely to sale through the committee tomorrow and be quickly approved by the Senate.

"Unfortunately, I don't think there's any chance of stopping her nomination," said Murphy. "She was nominated by Bush, and the committee sat on it, and renominated by Obama and they sat it on. Now we're a lame duck session, and they’re moving it. That tells me they have the votes to get it through and it's a done deal."

"The prospects aren't good. Every office we've talked to has said they weren't going to go against an Obama nominee," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which also opposed the nomination. "But if we can get some senators to put pressure on her publicly or privately, maybe she will quit being such as obstacle when it comes to things like Amherst and the raids. We're taking sort of a harm reduction approach, like when Asa Hutchinson was grilled during his hearing and came out in support of reducing the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity."

Getting Michele Leonhart to back off a little on the medical marijuana raids would be a welcome consolation, but don't hold your breath. Progressive drug policy stances are not the traditional province of the DEA, and it looks like nothing is going to change there for the foreseeable future.

Washington, DC
United States

Election 2010 and US Drug Policy in Latin America [FEATURE]

This month's election returns, which resulted in the Republican Party taking back control of the US House of Representatives, have serious, if cloudy, ramifications for progress on drug policy on the domestic front. Similarly, when we look south of the border, where a cash-strapped US has been throwing billions of dollars, mainly at the governments of Colombia and Mexico in a quixotic bid to thwart the drug trade, the Republican return to control in the House could mean a more unfriendly atmosphere for efforts to reform our Latin American drug policy.

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Plan Merida funding on the line?
Or not. Analysts consulted by Drug War Chronicle this week said it was too soon to tell. They varied on the impact of the Tea Party movement on Republican drug policy positions, as well as reaching differing conclusions as to whether the Tea Party's much-touted allegiance to fiscal austerity will be trumped by mainstream Republican militarism, interventionism, and hostility to drug reform.

Since 2006, and including Fiscal Year 2011 budgets that have not actually been passed yet, the US has spent nearly $2.8 billion on military and police aid to Colombia, with that number increasing to roughly $7 billion if spending back to the beginning of Plan Colombia in 1999 is included. Likewise, since 2006, the US has dished out nearly $1.5 billion for the Mexican drug war, as well as smaller, but still significant amounts for other Latin American countries and multi-country regional initiatives. Overall, the US has spent $6.56 billion in military and police assistance to Latin America in the past five years, with the drug war used to justify almost all of it.

Even by its own metrics, the US drug war spending in Colombia has had, at best, limited success. It has helped stabilize the country's shaky democracy, it has helped weaken the leftist guerrillas of the FARC, and it has managed to marginally reduce coca and cocaine production in Colombia.

But those advances have come at very high price. Tens of thousands of Colombians have been killed in the violence in the past two decades, Colombia has the world's highest number of internal refugees, widespread aerial spraying of coca crops has led to environmental damage, and paramilitary death squads linked to the government continue to rampage. Some 38 labor leaders have been killed there so far this year.

The results of US anti-drug spending in Mexico have been even more meager. The $1.4 billion Plan Merida has beefed up the Mexican military and law enforcement, but the violence raging there has not been reduced at all. To the contrary, it has increased dramatically since, with US support, President Felipe Calderon deployed the military against the cartels at the beginning of 2007. Around 30,000 people have been killed since then, gunfights are a near daily occurrence in cities just across the border from the US, and the flow of drugs into the US remains virtually unimpeded.

That is the reality confronting Republicans in the House, who will now take over. The shift in power in the House means that the chairmanship of key foreign affairs committees will shift from moderate Democrats to conservative Republicans. Current House Foreign Relations Committee chair Howard Berman (D-CA) will be replaced by anti-Castro zealot Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), while in the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, Elliot Engel (D-NY) will be replaced by Connie Mack (R-FL).

Other Republicans on the subcommittee include hard-liners Dan Burton (R-IN) and Elton Gallegly (R-CA). But there will be one anti-drug war Republican on the committee, Ron Paul (R-TX).

"Ileana and her committee will try to stir things up more, but it's too early to say what that means for drug policy," said Sanho Tree, drug policy analyst for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. "She'll do anything she can to screw over the Castro brothers, and that is the lens through which she sees the world."

That could mean hearings designed to go after Castro ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who threw out the DEA several years ago, and whose country is cited each year by the State Department as not complying with US drug policy objectives. But beyond that is anybody's guess.

"I think you might see a change of tone," said Adam Isaacson, an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America. "You'll see Venezuela portrayed more and more as the drug bad guy, but neither Ros-Lehtinen or Mack can see much beyond Cuba," he said.

"If you bought the premise that the drug war was an extension of the Cold War, you could have a brand new Cold War framework here," said Isaacson. "They won't be able to buy a lot of Blackhawks, but they can use it as another way to beat up on the Obama administration."

"I think not much is going to change," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "To the extent the need is to cut money, Republicans might want less funding for these programs, but that's a big if. But this is a different sort of Republican, and so there may be the possibility of a left-right coalition to quit funding Plan Colombia. I'm not sure the Republicans can keep their people in line on Mexico and Colombia."

"Obama has been unyielding when it comes to maintaining the status quo on hemispheric drug policy," said Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "He hasn't come up with any new programs or expressed any sympathy for the progressive drug policy initiatives coming out of Latin America. He is not going to allow himself to be accused of being soft on drugs. All hope for reform is gone, and there is little likelihood that the administration will come up with any drug-related initiative that will cost more money than we're spending now or that would challenge the pro-drug war lobby that now exists. I don't think we will see much activity on this front," he predicted.

Nor did Birns look to Tea Party-style incoming Republicans to break with drug war orthodoxy. He cited campaign season attacks from Tea Party candidates that Washington was "soft on drugs" and suggested that despite the occasional articulation of anti-drug war themes from some candidates, "the decision makers in the Tea Party are not going to sanction a softening on drugs in any way."

"I'm not aware of a single reference to the prospective drug policy of the new class of representatives," said Birns. "It seems to have become desaparicido when it comes to hemispheric policy."

"The Tea Partiers are very vague on foreign policy in general, and we're seeing things like John McCain coming out and attacking Rand Paul for not being interventionist enough," noted Tree.

Despite calls from conservatives for vigorous budget cutting, Tree was skeptical that the Latin American drug war budget would be cut. "In the Heritage Foundation budget cut report, for example, they killed ONDCP's funding and foreign assistance, but nothing from the military budget," he noted. "Maybe they can find some common ground on the drug war, but I'm not holding my breath."

"We haven’t heard them say too much yet," said Isaacson, disagreeing with Tree. "But they don't have any money. The Tea party wants to cut the budget and the foreign aid budget is most vulnerable. Even the Merida Initiative could be in play," he said.

But, Isaacson said, the old-school hard-liners are already at work. He cited a Wednesday conference on Capitol Hill called Danger in the Andes, which explores the "threat" from Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba.

"A lot of these new guys went," he said. "John Walters, Roger Noriega, and Otto Reich were there. Good to see some new faces," he laughed painfully.

"We still don't know much about the Tea Party when it comes to foreign policy," said Juan Carlos Hidalgo of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "Whether these guys will follow their budget-cutting instincts and look to reduce foreign aid and the military presence abroad, or whether they will follow the neoconservative wing of the party that believes in empire and strong defense and pursuing interventionist policies all over the world is the question," he said.

"I expect more of the same under the Republicans," said Hidalgo. "I don't foresee big changes. This Tea Party is going to play conservative when it comes to the war on drugs," he predicted. "But I haven't seen a single Tea Partier say what they believe on this issue. We have to give them six months to a year to show their colors."

Mexican Marines being trained by US Marines
The Tea Party movement has already shown conflicting tendencies within it when it comes to foreign policy in general and US drug policy in Latin America in particular, Hidalgo argued. "Some part of it is militaristic and interventionist, like Sarah Palin. On the other hand, there are people link Rand Paul, who stands for a non-interventionist foreign policy and who thinks drug policy should be reassessed," he said. "We don't know how that is going to play out."

But Hidalgo strongly suggested he thought that it wasn't going to be in a reformist direction. "Even though the Tea Partiers believe in smaller government, the movement has been hijacked by the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party," he said. "Its biggest names are Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, both of whom are ultraconservative Republicans. I would be pleasantly surprised to see Tea Party representatives come into office and say the war on drugs is a failure, a big waste of money that has failed miserably. They claim they will look at every single budget item, and what better way to cut spending? I'll believe it when I see it," he said.

One thing that managed to win reluctant Democratic votes for funding the drug wars in Colombia and Mexico was human rights conditionality, meaning that -- in theory, at least -- US assistance could be pared back if those countries did not address identified human rights concerns. With tens of thousands dead in both Mexico and Colombia in the drug war, with widespread allegations of torture and abuses in both countries, the issue should be on the front burner.

In reality, human rights concerns always took a back seat to the imperatives of realpolitik. That's likely to be even more the case with Republicans in control of the House.

"There is not going to be much sympathy to human rights as a driver of US policy," said Birns. "The Republicans initially used human rights as an anti-communist vehicle; it was never meant to be used against rightists. Given that the Obama administration has been conspicuously silent on Latin America, human rights, like drug policy reform, is an issue that has largely disappeared from the public debate. If anything, the noise level of things to come on drug policy will be significantly lowered. Whatever was in the air about new approaches has pretty much been put to bed for the winter."

"On Plan Merida, the Democrats attached human rights conditions because of concerns the Mexican army was committing human rights abuses," said Hidalgo. "It's an open question whether a Republican House will be less concerned about human rights when it comes to helping Mexico, or will they say we should cut spending there?"

For Hidalgo, the big election news in 2010 was not the change in the House of Representatives, but the defeat of Proposition 19 in California.

"Before the vote, several Latin American leaders, including Colombian President Santos, said that if it were to pass, that would force Colombia to reconsider its drug policy and the war on drugs and bring this issue to international forums like the United Nations," he said. "That gave many of us hope that Colombia would precipitate an international discussion on whether to continue the current approach or to adopt a more sensible approach like Portugal or the Netherlands," he said. "Now, that is not going to happen."

Washington, DC
United States

Today is National Call-In Day: Support the National Criminal Justice Commission Act (Action Alert)

 

Dear friends,

TODAY - Tuesday, November 16 - is National Call-In Day:  If you are concerned about America's incarceration problem, please take a few minutes to call key senators who are in a position to do something about it.  Tell Senate leadership to support the National Criminal Justice Commission Act!

In 2009, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, S. 714 and H.R. 5143, which will create a bipartisan commission to complete a comprehensive review of the national criminal justice system, identify effective criminal justice policies and make recommendations for much-needed reform.
The House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee have passed the bill, and 39 senators have co-sponsored it, but this important legislation still awaits final passage during the last few weeks of the Congressional session.  If the National Criminal Justice Commission Act does not pass now, the whole process will have to be repeated in 2011.

LEAP believes this bill will help us achieve our goal of legalization and regulation, as Senator Webb has said that discussing the legalization of drugs should be on the table for the commission.  Drug prohibition directly impacts the problem of prison overcrowding by incarcerating nonviolent offenders, and America has the highest incarceration rate in the world.  As a supporter of LEAP, please urge Senate leadership to pass this important legislation!

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Please call the following Senators TODAY, November 16, to ask them to prioritize and support Senate passage of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, S. 714:

--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), 202-224-3542

--Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), 202-224-3135

--YOUR Senate representatives.  To find contact information for the Senators representing your state, please call 202-224-3121

TALKING POINTS:

"I am calling to ask Senator _________ to prioritize and support immediate Senate passage of S. 714, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, because the proposed commission would conduct a comprehensive national review of the efficacy of criminal justice policies in the United States and offer recommendations for reform that would improve public safety, governement accountability, cost effectiveness, and overall fairness in the implementation of the criminal justice system."

Thank you for your support of this important effort!

Your donation puts LEAP speakers in front of audiences. To support LEAP's work by making a contribution, please click here.


           

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We need help growing our all-encompassing movement of citizens who want to end the failed "war on drugs," so please invite your family and friends to learn about LEAP.

 

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Cops Ask Senate to Reject Obama's DEA Nomination Tomorrow (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 16, 2010

CONTACT: Tom Angell - (202) 557-4979 or tom@leap.cc

Pro-Legalization Police Group Asks Senate to Vote Against Obama's DEA Nominee

Judiciary Committee to Hold Confirmation Hearing on Wednesday

WASHINGTON, DC -- A group of police officers, judges and prosecutors who support legalizing and regulating marijuana and other drugs has sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee opposing President Obama's nominee to head the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The nominee, Michele Leonhart, has overseen numerous DEA raids of medical marijuana clinics operating in accordance with state laws during her tenure as acting DEA administrator. This is in direction violation of President Obama's campaign pledges and a Justice Department directive urging the DEA not to waste scarce law enforcement resources undermining the will of voters who have made medical marijuana legal in their states.

"As a police officer, I made arrests of drug users because I was held accountable for enforcing the law whether I agreed with it or not," wrote Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore narcotics cop, in his testimony on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which he leads as executive director.  "Ms. Leonhart should be held similarly accountable for her actions which were inconsistent with guidance from the Department of Justice, as well as President Obama’s clear intentions based on his popular campaign pledges."

The criminal justice professionals of LEAP are also concerned with Leonhart's apparent disregard for the value of human life, having once called the gruesome violence in Mexico's illegal drug market a sign of "success" for U.S. drug policy. 

"The tens of thousands of civilian deaths, which have continued to skyrocket since Ms. Leonhart’s statement, should not be measured as a sign of success," Franklin wrote. "Former Mexican president Vicente Fox and at least three additional former Latin American presidents have pointed out the failure of the US-led war on drugs and called for drastic change. The situation is Mexico is grave and escalating rapidly, putting US citizens in danger. Before the spillover violence gets any worse, the DEA needs a director who can engage world leaders in this debate and come to a solution."

Leonhart has served as acting administrator of the DEA for two years.  The hearing to confirm her as administrator takes place before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at 2:30 PM in 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

#     #     #

Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman

Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Statement of Major Neill Franklin on behalf of LAW ENFORCEMENT AGAINST PROHIBITION (LEAP) in opposition to the nomination of Ms. Michele Leonhart

Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in opposition to the nomination of Michele Leonhart for the position of Director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

After a 33-year career as a police officer, I became the executive director of LEAP, an association of current and former law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and criminal justice professionals at every level of government who are speaking out about the failure of our drug policy. 

Our members are deeply concerned about drug abuse and illicit drug market violence, and we have spent our careers fighting the drug war. Several of our members, including Russ Jones of Texas, Matthew Fogg of Washington, D.C., and Richard Amos of Florida, served as DEA agents or on DEA task forces. And as a police officer with the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore Police Department, I too made my share of drug arrests in addition to commanding multi-jurisdictional drug task forces.

We oppose Ms. Leonhart’s nomination because her statements and actions demonstrate questionable judgment.  Ms. Leonhart held a press conference regarding Mexican drug prohibition violence last year.  Since 2006, more than 28,000 people have died in Mexico as a result of the illegal drug market violence.  At the press conference, Ms. Leonhart indicated that such violence was a good sign. “Our view is that the violence we have been seeing is a signpost of the success our very courageous Mexican counterparts are having,” she said. “The cartels are acting out like caged animals, because they are caged animals.”

The tens of thousands of civilian deaths, which have continued to skyrocket since Ms. Leonhart’s statement, should not be measured as a sign of success. Former Mexican president Vicente Fox and at least three additional former Latin American presidents have pointed out the failure of the US-led war on drugs and called for drastic change. The situation is Mexico is grave and escalating rapidly, putting US citizens in danger. Before the spillover violence gets any worse, the DEA needs a director who can engage world leaders in this debate and come to a solution.

Ms. Leonhart’s judgment in allocating resources is questionable. Since her appointment by President Bush, she has overseen more than 200 federal raids in California and other medical marijuana states.  When Ms. Leonhart became interim director, these raids continued even after the issuance of the October 19, 2009 Department of Justice memo which recommended federal officials shift resources away from targeting those individuals and organizations operating in compliance with state laws related to medical marijuana. 

As a police officer, I made arrests of drug users because I was held accountable for enforcing the law whether I agreed with it or not.  Ms. Leonhart should be held similarly accountable for her actions which were inconsistent with guidance from the Department of Justice, as well as President Obama’s clear intentions based on his popular campaign pledges. Under her supervision, a DEA agent raiding a marijuana grower who was operating with the support of the sheriff in Mendocino County, CA, said, “I don’t care what the sheriff says.” This attitude is counterproductive. Given the grave problems associated with illegal drug market violence, we feel that conducting raids on individuals and caretakers acting in compliance with state and local law may not be the best use of the DEA’s limited resources.

The DEA needs a director whose decisions are guided by the best interests of our citizens. Despite calls by the American Medical Association, Ms. Leonhart has failed to respond to a petition calling for hearings to review the scheduling of marijuana. Despite the DEA’s own administrative law judge’s ruling that the University of Massachusetts should be able to cultivate marijuana for FDA-approved research, Ms. Leonhart has blocked such research. We encourage the nomination of a director who supports engaging in dialogue and the use of research to shape the best possible policies.

Ultimately, we feel Ms. Leonhart is not ready for the job of DEA director and qualified candidates are available.  In your confirmation hearings, the members of the Judiciary Committee should ask the difficult questions which will determine how she would intend to handle the changing nature of US drug laws. Voters across the country have created a gap between federal policy and state law that is steadily widening. In fifteen states, plus Washington D.C., the medical use of marijuana has been recognized. Several other states may choose to legalize marijuana in the next few years. The director of the DEA must be able to appropriately bridge this divide without wasting resources or causing unnecessary harm.

In the meantime, the criminal justice professionals of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition urge a no vote on Ms. Leonhart’s confirmation as DEA director.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

National Call-In Alert: The National Criminal Justice Commission Act

US Senate
In 2009, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) and 15 Republican and Democratic cosponsors introduced the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, legislation that would create a bipartisan Commission to review and identify effective criminal justice policies and make recommendations for reform. The House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee have passed the bill, which now has 39 Senate cosponsors, but the bill still awaits final passage during these last few weeks of the Congressional session. If NCJC doesn't pass this year, it will all have to be done over again in 2011.

Today is the National Call-In Day for Passage of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act. Please call the following Senators to ask them to prioritize and support Senate passage of the NCJC Act, H.R. 5143 and S. 714, this year:

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), 202-224-3542
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), 202-224-3135
  • the two US Senators from your state -- call (202) 224-3121 or click here to look them up.

The following is a message for your call to the Senators' offices:

I am calling to ask the Senator to prioritize and support immediate Senate passage of the House-passed National Criminal Justice Commission Act, H.R. 5143/S. 714, because:
  • Having a transparent and bipartisan Commission review and identify effective criminal justice policies would increase public safety.
  • The increase in incarceration over the past twenty years has stretched the system beyond its limits. These high costs to taxpayers are unsustainable, especially during these tough economic times.
  • The proposed commission would conduct a comprehensive national review -- not audits of individual state systems -- and would issue recommendations -- not mandates -- for consideration.

Write back if you have any questions, and please let us know if you learn anything about your Senator's intentions from your phone call. Thank you for taking action.

Washington, DC
United States

It's Up to You (Action Alert)

We Are the Drug Policy Alliance

Senate leadership is sitting on a bill that would pave the way for criminal justice and drug policy reforms. Tell them to call a floor vote!

Take Action!

Email Sens. Reid and McConnell

Dear friends,

Today's the day.

This is our best chance to get Congress and President Obama to establish an important commission that could provide recommendations on how to reform our marijuana laws, as well as other criminal justice issues.

The Senate is considering a bill that would establish a national commission to make recommendations on improving the criminal justice system -- but Congress is dragging its feet.  They need to hear from reformers around the country in support of this bill. Send a message to Senate leadership now!

This bill has already passed the House. It has also passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. All we need is for Senate Leadership to bring it to the floor for a final vote. We’ve got the bill to the ten yard line, but we need you to score the touchdown. Please take just a few minutes today to contact Senate Leadership and tell them to pass the National Criminal Justice Commission Act this week.

This is our last chance this year to pass this important reform bill. Please take action and forward this email to your friends and family.

Sincerely,

Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Advocates Bring Attention to DEA Confirmation Hearings: Acting DEA Head Michele Leonhart, a Bush-holdover, Led Aggressive Campaign Against Medical Marijuana (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 15, 2010
9:28 AM

CONTACT: Americans for Safe Access
SA Government Affairs Director Caren Woodson 510-388-0546 or ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes 510-681-6361

Medical Marijuana Advocates Bring Attention to DEA Confirmation Hearings

Acting DEA head Michele Leonhart, a Bush-holdover, led aggressive campaign against medical marijuana

WASHINGTON - November 15 - After more than two years as acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Michele Leonhart, who served as Deputy DEA Administrator during George W. Bush's presidency, is scheduled to be confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee this Wednesday, November 17th at 2:30pm EST. No friend to medical marijuana patients, Leonhart along with her former boss, DEA Administrator Karen Tandy, were responsible for more than two hundred paramilitary-style raids on patients and their providers. As Acting DEA Administrator, Leonhart has continued to raid dispensaries, growers and medical marijuana testing labs despite a change in federal policy under President Obama.

Although Leonhart is expected to be easily confirmed, advocates want to hold her feet to the fire, and are encouraging Senate Judiciary Committee members to ask tough questions about adherence to President Obama's Justice Department policy and her plans for addressing the growing divide between federal and state medical marijuana laws. "Leonhart's track record of causing untold harm to patients and their providers over the years is cause for a serious lack of trust in the medical marijuana community," said Caren Woodson, Director of Government Affairs with Americans for Safe Access, the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group, which has submitted questions to be asked of Leonhart during the confirmation hearing. "We need to know that Leonhart has a plan for medical marijuana and the protection of patients and that she will be held accountable for her actions."

What: Michele Leonhart's confirmation hearing to be the next DEA Administrator
When: Wednesday, November 17th at 2:30pm
Where: Senate Judiciary Committee, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 226, Washington, DC

In October 2009, the Obama Administration issued a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys discouraging the use of federal resources to prosecute individuals who are in "clear and unambiguous compliance" with their state medical marijuana law. Since then, ASA has tracked more than 30 federal enforcement raids in California, Colorado, Hawaii, and Nevada, all medical marijuana states. By contrast, local and state governments are recognizing the need for, and authorizing methods of, distribution of medical marijuana. In a grassroots push over the next two days, medical marijuana advocates across the country are calling on Senate Judiciary Committee members to ask hard questions of Leonhart. "Leonhart must look at this as a public health issue and do more to reconcile the conflict between local, state and federal laws," continued Woodson.

In addition to enforcement, as head of the DEA, Leonhart will have authority over an unanswered marijuana Rescheduling petition that has been pending since 2002. Filed by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC), the petition originally argued before the Bush Administration that marijuana has medical value and should be rescheduled. Now before the Obama Administration, advocates and coalition members are expecting more rigorous scrutiny on an issue that has been progressively moving toward scientific and mainstream acceptance. This past week it was confirmed that Arizona, which narrowly voted for Proposition 203, would become the country's 15th state to pass a medical marijuana law.

Under the authority of the Controlled Substances Act, Leonhart has significant control over medical marijuana research in the U.S., and has used her position as Acting Administrator to obstruct the scientific advancement of this important therapeutic substance. In January 2009, days before President Bush was to vacate his office, Acting Administrator Leonhart thwarted an effort to end federal obstruction of medical marijuana research, ignoring an 87-page recommendation from her own DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner, who ruled that such research was "in the public interest." The DEA and the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) have colluded to obstruct medical efficacy studies by prioritizing research on the supposed harmful effects of marijuana.

Further information:
Leonhart confirmation hearing notice: http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=4850
ASA Questions for Leonhart: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/ASA_Leonhart_Questions.pdf
ASA Memo to Senate Judiciary Committee: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/ASA_Leonhart_Memo.pdf

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Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

The Republican House and Drug Reform: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly [FEATURE]

Last week, a resurgent Republican Party retook control of the US House of Representatives, giving the Democrats a drubbing the likes of which has not been seen for decades. The Democrats lost 61 seats, seeing their side sink to 189 seats to the Republicans' 240. They needed 218 to take over again.

The change in control of the House has some serious drug policy implications. There's bad news, but maybe also some good news.

Reform measures passed in the current Congress, such as repealing the bans on federal funding of needle exchange programs and implementation of the Washington, DC, medical marijuana program, could see attempts to roll them back. And pending reforms efforts, such as the battle to repeal the HEA student loan provision, are probably dead. Reform friendly Democratic committee chairs, who wield considerable power, have been replaced by hostile Republicans.

But the incoming Republicans made slashing the deficit and cutting the federal budget a winning campaign issue for themselves, and will be looking for programs they can cut or eliminate. That could open the door to hacking away at programs that support the ongoing prosecution of the drug war, but it could also open the door for cuts in prevention and treatment programs.

As the Chronicle noted here earlier this week, it's not just Tea Party types who want to wield the budget ax. The mainstream conservative Heritage Foundation issued a report just before election day laying out a whopping $434 billion in federal budget cuts, including eliminating the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the drug task force-funding Justice Assistance Grant (JAG, formerly the Byrne grant program) program, and the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities state grant program.

"Budgetary issues is where I'm most optimistic," said Bill Piper, veteran national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Given the fiscal climate, there could be real cuts in the federal budget. Next year is probably an unprecedented opportunity to de-fund the federal drug war. These new Republicans are a different breed—anti-government, anti-spending, pro-states' rights, and some are proven to be prone to bucking the leadership. If the Republican leadership votes to preserve the drug war, they may rebel," he said.

"We can go after the Byrne grant program," Piper enthused. "That's a very important deal. If we can cut off drug war funding to the states, the states won't be able to afford their punitive policies anymore. During the recession in the Bush administration, when the administration was cutting money to the states, a lot of states passed reform measures because they couldn't afford to lock people up. This time, the federal government has been bailing out state criminal justice systems, but if we can cut or eliminate Byrne grants, the states won't have money for their drug task forces and imprisoning people. Then they will have to consider reforms like cutting sentences and making marijuana possession an infraction."

"Sentencing reform on budgetary grounds is possible," said Kara Gotsch, director of advocacy for the Sentencing Project. "From our perspective, that is a way to reduce government spending. If you want to reduce drug war spending, you reduce costs by investing in prevention and substance abuse programs. That will be part of our talking points, but the reality is, to be successful they're going to have to be bipartisan."

Eric Sterling, former House Judiciary Committee counsel and current head of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation was less sanguine than either Piper or Gotsch about the urge to cut the deficit leading to progress in drug reform. "The prospect of saving money leading to criminal justice and drug policy reform is remote," said Sterling. "In state legislatures where they have to balance the budget, everyone recognizes what has to happen. But in Congress, they know there is still going to be a deficit."

Sterling also questioned just how different the Republican freshman class will be from traditional Republicans. "That's a big question mark," he said. "They are younger and bring with them different experiences about drug policy or marijuana in particular, but most of these men and women won by using traditional themes that most incumbent Republicans used, too. I think for them, cracking down on drugs and crime will have more value than trying to save money by funding diversion or correctional programs that aren't about harsh punishment."

But Piper remained upbeat. "Next year is probably an unprecedented opportunity for the movement to defund the drug war. The stars are aligning. A lot of tax groups are already on record for cutting some of these programs," he noted. "Given the fiscal climate, we could see considerable cuts in the federal budget. The type of Republicans coming into office, as well as Obama's own need to show he can practice fiscal discipline, means a real chance to cut or eliminate some of those programs," he said. "The down side is that funding for prevention and treatment is likely to come under fire, too."

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) -- no friend of drug reform.
While budget battles will be fought in appropriations committees, criminal justice issues are a different matter. One of the most striking changes  comes in the House Judiciary Committee, where pro-drug reform Democrats like chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) are being replaced by the likes of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who will head the Judiciary Committee. Smith, a conservative old school drug warrior, was the only congressman to speak up against passage of the bill to reduce the disparity in crack and powder cocaine sentences.

He also authored a bill this fall that would have made it a federal offense for US citizens to plan to commit acts outside the US that would violate US drug laws. While that bill was allegedly aimed at large drug trafficking organizations, it could have made federal criminals out of college students making plans to visit the coffee shops of Amsterdam. He took to Fox News last month to lambaste the Obama administration as insufficiently tough on marijuana law enforcement, a clip he displays on his web site (scroll over the small video screens; the title will pop up).

"The fact that Rep. Smith is going to be the chair will definitely have an impact," said Gotsch. "He was the only vocal opposition to the crack cocaine sentencing reform, and the fact that he is now going to be chair is discouraging. It indicates that he won't be thoughtful about sentencing reforms for low level drug offenders."

"The Democratic committee chairs were good on drug policy and unlikely to advance bad drug war bills," said Piper. "Now, with Conyers and Scott gone and Lamar Smith in charge, we can expect stuff like Smith's foreign drug conspiracy bill to come out of that committee."

"You couldn’t find bigger champions for reform than Scott and Conyers," said Gotsch. "We won't have them as chairs now; that's probably the biggest disappointment to our community."

"Smith has been quite out there in his attacks over the drug issue," said Sterling. "My hunch is that we will take advantage of the political attractiveness of the drug issue to try to have both oversight hearings and legislation that would be embarrassing to Democrats."

And don't expect too much from the Democrats, either, he added. "The Democratic caucus is going to be more reluctant to deal with the drug issue in a progressive way than it has been," said Sterling. "They see it as a distraction from the heart of the message they need to bring to retake power in 2012."

With people like Smith holding key House committee positions, the drug reform agenda is likely to stall in the next Congress. Instead, reformers will be fighting to avoid reversing earlier gains.

"In terms of passing good things, there probably wasn’t a lot more that was going to happen with Democrats before 2012," said Piper. "The important low hanging fruit of overturning the syringe ban, the DC medical marijuana ban, and the crack sentencing bill had already gotten through. We might have been able to achieve repeal of the HEA drug provision, but probably not now."

The drug reform movement's job now will be not only blocking bad legislation, but also fighting to prevent a rollback of drug reform victories in the current Congress, such as the repeal of the bans on syringe exchange funding and implementing the Washington, DC, medical marijuana law, said Piper. 

"They're unlikely to go backwards on crack, but the syringe ban and the DC medical marijuana ban were both repealed with some, but not a lot, of Republican support," he said. "The syringe ban repeal barely passed, and that was in a Congress dominated by Democrats. Will they try to restore the syringe funding ban and overturn DC's medical marijuana program? That's our big fear. Hopefully, we can scrape up enough votes to defeat in the House, or stop it on the Senate side," he said.

Piper also dared to dream of an emerging Republican anti-drug war caucus. "We don't know who these new Republicans all are, but some have probably been influenced by Ron Paul (R-TX)," he said. "If only 10 of them stand up against the drug war, that's a huge opportunity to raise hell in the Republican caucus. Almost a third of Republican voters want to legalize marijuana, and that's an opportunity for us, too. Maybe there will be Republicans we can work with and create a truly bipartisan anti-drug war coalition in Congress. That's a foothold."

For Piper, the future looks stormy and cloudy, but "the silver lining is in appropriations fights and opportunities to organize an anti-drug war movement in the Republican caucus. We just have to play defense on a bunch of stuff," he said. 

"The activist community is going to have to figure out what the recipe for our lemonade is," advised Sterling. "That requires first a redoubled effort at organizing, using themes such as the wise stewardship of the scarce resources we have, and what works and what is effective," he said.

"It also requires mobilizing people not involved in this issue before, whether it's the business community or people who see their rice bowls been broken by the Republican approach," Sterling continued. "Teachers, nurses, people asking how come the part of the public work force this is protected is the police and the police guards. Drug policy reform activists have to think about what are the alliances they can make in this time of public resource scarcity."

Washington, DC
United States

Heritage Foundation Says Cut Drug Czar's Office, Byrne Grants, More

In an attempt to provide some specifics for Republican promises to reduce the budget deficit by cutting federal spending, the conservative Heritage Foundation has issued a backgrounder report saying Congress should eliminate the Office of National Drug Control Policy (the drug czar's office), the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities state grant program, and all Justice Department grant programs, except those for the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice. That means the drug task force-funding Justice Assistance Grants (JAG, formerly known as the Byrne grant) are on the chopping block, too.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/director_kerlikoske.jpg
Goodbye Gil?
The report said the federal government could cut a whopping $434 billion and the savings could come from eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and outdated or ineffective programs;consolidating duplicative programs, targeting programs more precisely, privatization, and "empowering state and local governments" by reducing federal funding for them.

Taxpayers could save $30 million by axing the "duplicative" drug czar's office and $298 million by eliminating the Safe and Drug Free Schools state grants, which are used for violence and drug and alcohol prevention programs. The Byrne grant program, which can also be used to fund drug treatment and prevention, is set at $598 million in the Obama administration's FY 2011 budget request. 

The drug budget cuts are only a tiny fraction of  the $343 billion that Heritage said should be cut. The report takes the budget ax to nearly $20 billion in agriculture funding, nearly $8 billion in community development grants, nearly $8 billion in federal education spending, more than $7 billion in energy and environmental spending, nearly $92 billion from federal government operations (including federal employee pay freezes), and nearly $7 billion by cutting federal job training and Job Corps funds.

If the cuts proposed by the Heritage Foundation in its entirety were to be enacted, they would radically shrink the federal government and redraw the picture of what the people expect from government. But the Republicans only control one chamber of Congress, some of the proposed cuts could lead to dissent even within GOP ranks, and Democrats and people who stand to lose out are sure to fight them.

Still, it would be nice if the spirit of bipartisanship could prevail long enough to begin closing the book on decades of wasted and counter-productive federal drug prohibition spending, even though we wouldn't want to see proven prevention programs slashed.

Washington, DC
United States

New Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Crack Cocaine Now in Effect

New federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses went into effect Monday, a week after the US Sentencing Commission promulgated them. The commission acted on a temporary basis to implement the Fair Sentencing Act, which was passed into law last summer. It will vote in May to make the changes permanent.

The Fair Sentencing Act was passed in the face of growing uneasiness over racial disparities in federal drug sentences. From the 1980s until the act was passed, people caught with as little as five grams of crack cocaine faced mandatory minimum five-year prison sentences, while people caught with powder cocaine had to be caught with 500 grams before being hit with the mandatory minimum. More than 80% of federal crack prosecutions were aimed at blacks, even though more whites than blacks used crack.

Under the new law, it will take 28 grams of crack to trigger the mandatory minimum five-year sentence. Under the old law, 50 grams of crack earned a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence; under the new law, the threshold rises to 280 grams. That means the old 100:1 sentencing disparity has been reduced to 18:1.

That's not enough for groups like the November Coalition and Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which have fought for years for federal drug sentencing reform. Still on the agenda for reformers is eliminating the remaining sentencing disparity and making the law retroactive to benefit people already serving draconian federal crack sentences.

It's not all good news. The new guidelines will also add months to some drug offender sentences. "Aggravating factors" such as intimidating girlfriends or elderly family members to sell drugs could earn drug gang leaders extra prison time. On the other hand, some low level offenders who were intimidated into participating in drug sales could see months shaved off their sentences.

Washington, DC
United States

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