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In Slamming Obama, DEA Administrator Presents Reformers With Rare Opportunity

Michele Leonhart, acting administrator of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, delivers a speech during a press conference at the International Drug Enforcement Conference, IDEC, in Rio de Janeiro, Tuesday, April 27, 2010. This year?s conference theme of "Targeting the Facilitators" will focus on global drug trafficking organizations, precursor chemical control, the nexus between drugs and terrorism, financial facilitators, and intelligence sharing across multi-national law enforcement agencies. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Photo of Michele Leonhart by Felipe Dana/AP

Politics

In Slamming Obama, DEA Administrator Presents Reformers With Rare Opportunity

In a speech last week to the National Sheriff’s Association, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart had harsh words for her boss, President Obama as chronicled in the Boston Herald:

Kern County, Calif., Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the Major Counties Sheriffs’ Association, the group that sponsored Leonhart’s talk Tuesday at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., said Leonhart called out Obama for what Youngblood described as “irresponsible” comments that were a “big slap in the face” to cops who have lost their lives keeping drugs off the street.

“This is a woman who has spent 33 years of her life fighting drug abuse in the DEA, her entire life. To have the president of the United States publicly say marijuana was a bad habit like alcohol was appalling to everyone in that room,” Youngblood said. “I think the way that she felt was that it was a betrayal of what she does for the American people in enforcing our drug laws. … She got a standing ovation.”

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson said he was thrilled to hear the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration take her boss to task.

“She’s frustrated for the same reasons we are,” Hodgson said. “She said she felt the administration didn’t understand the science enough to make those statements. She was particularly frustrated with the fact that, according to her, the White House participated in a softball game with a pro-legalization group. … But she said her lowest point in 33 years in the DEA was when she learned they’d flown a hemp flag over the Capitol on July 4. The sheriffs were all shocked. This is the first time in 28 years I’ve ever heard anyone in her position be this candid.”

If true, Leonhart’s comments place her in a position of being deliberately disrespectful, if not insubordinate, to her boss, President Barack Obama. This is an untenable position for a person who is appointed by the President to head a federal law enforcement agency.

It is impossible that Leonhart, a 33-year veteran of the DEA, does not understand the import of what she said. Possibly Leonhart forsees that her rigidly authoritarian prohibitionism will increasingly come at odds with President Obama and even Attorney General Eric Holder, who have both recently begun speaking of the racial impacts of drug prohibition and mass incarceration.

Certainly, Leonhart knew her audience, a group of people that have vested interests in not only drug prohibition but in partnerships with the DEA providing asset forfeiture and grant revenues for local law enforcement. Indeed, this speech represents a naked political ploy to undermine the President’s publicly stated stance on marijuana by rousing political opposition.

Though there have been numerous scandals, including recent disclosures that the DEA allowed the Sinaloa cartel to import cocaine into the United States, Congressional oversight is nominal.

Leonhart’s speech last week to the National Sheriff’s Association rearranges this dynamic. It is a direct challenge to the authority of Congress and of the office of the President of the United States.

For drug policy reformers, this is a rare political opportunity. It is likely that news of this speech will give Congress a reason to be interested in who is running at the DEA, and it is unlikely that President Obama will tolerate direct insubordination by someone who serves at his pleasure. What matters now is the political calculus of the President’s response, and how drug policy reformers can influence that calculus.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. john

    February 4, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Okay the whole flag thing Wtf? Does she not know that the constitution is written on hemp.

  2. Ross Pitts

    January 29, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    I don’t know what’s more detestable the fact that they group opiate pill mills and marijuana dispensaries in the same category or there unwavering dedication to packing privatized prisons with non violent marijuana offenders at taxpayer cost

  3. Jerry L. Steering

    January 28, 2014 at 8:21 am

    The DEA Administrator should look for a new job. The President is right. You can’t overdose on pot, but you can on beer; even on water. Those cops that fought the drug war against pot did it for nothing. They did nothing to benefit society. She is a worthless relic of Nancy Reagan’s era gone by. She needs to focus on real drug problems, like heroin. Oh, I almost forgot. The entire US Military presence in Afghanistan doesn’t want the populace there going over to the Taliban, so, our tax dollars and the lives and bodies of thousand of America’s finest troops are protecting the opium poppies in Afghanistan, so we can ensure that 90% of the world heroin trade is protected.

    • X

      January 29, 2014 at 11:01 am

      Law Enforcement officers who died in the line of duty in the “War On Drugs” have only the Federal Government to blame.

      Portugal decriminalized ALL drugs 11 years ago, and guess what? The world did NOT come to an end. In fact, drug use has DROPPED since drugs were decriminalized there.

      This stupid woman who heads the DEA is unfit to hold the position.

      Here is a perfect example of how ignorant she is, when asked a simple question she is incapable of answering:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFgrB2Wmh5s

  4. James L branzei

    January 27, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    If they weren’t wasting so much time an money an Ruining so many peoples life’s chasing after pot smokers the world would be a better place to live in .

  5. Anthony Anderson

    January 27, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    DEA needs to move on from a plant. It’s being legalized State wise both for recreational and medical use. Go after the real problem “drugs” such as Meth, Ecstasy, Acid…real one time use killers and addiction.

    • angela

      January 29, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      The mis-information going around about LSD is quite amazing really. Especially these days.. its quite uncommon to find, this generation doesn’t know a whole lot about it.. and usually have to go by the government’s anti-drug propaganda that surrounds it.

      When it comes down too actual FACTS, no bullshit, no theories or made up assumptions.. LSD is one of the cleanest/safest drugs known too mankind. (On a physical level)

  6. ben

    January 27, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Gotta disagree with this: “it is unlikely that President Obama will tolerate direct insubordination by someone who serves at his pleasure”

    I mean, he tolerates lying to congress in those who serve at his pleasure. I think he doesn’t ever speak with Michele Leonhart. He’ll let her rant and rave, and he’ll go back to ignoring criminal justice policy.

    • John

      January 29, 2014 at 10:43 pm

      That’s about how I see it, he does not have to worry about a re-election so he won’t care what this woman says or what anyone might think if he chooses to ignore her. To him, ignoring her is the same as saying her comments are worthless and not worth his time to acknowledge.

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