Jared Polis to Obama: No More Pot-Hating DEA Chiefs After Michele Leonhart

Michele Leonhart. Additional images, a video and more below.
Michele Leonhart. Additional images, a video and more below.
Univision via YouTube

Back in 2012, Drug Enforcement Administration boss Michele Leonhart earned the enmity of marijuana reformers when, under questioning from Colorado Representative Jared Polis, she declined to say that pot is a lesser health problem than crack, meth or even heroin. See the video of that shining moment below.

Now, Leonhart has announced her intention to resign — not because of her cannabis stance, but due to the lingering aftermath of a DEA sex scandal.

Polis, however, hasn't forgotten Leonhart's answer or her longstanding antipathy toward changing the federal government's approach to marijuana. He's among several members of Congress who have sent a letter to President Barack Obama — it's also shared here — asking that he appoint as Leonhart's replacement someone with more progressive views on drug enforcement.

Here's the clip of Leonhart's exchange with Polis during a Judiciary subcommittee hearing:

This statement was widely ridiculed by drug reformers. The following meme humorously encapsulates much of the reaction.

Months later, one of Leonhart's underlings casually rejected Colorado's request that marijuana no longer be categorized as a Schedule I narcotic — a substance with no known medical efficacy. This request was made in conjunction with a passage in Amendment 64, the 2012 measure that legalized limited recreational marijuana sales in Colorado.

Here's one passage from the missive, which is also included with this post:

"It should be noted that the levels of marijuana use in the United States are steadily increasing. According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 17.4 million Americans aged 12 years and older reported using marijuana in the past month. In 2010, approximately 2.4 million Americans aged 12 years and older used marijuana for the first time, which is an average of approximately 6,600 new users every day. According to the 2011 Monitoring the Future report, the number of current users of marijuana among 8th, 10th and 12th graders was at peak levels, the highest since 2002. In 2011, daily marijuana use markedly increased among all three grade levels compared to 2009 data."

But while Leonhart's intractability on drug policy earned her a great deal of criticism in certain quarters, she remained in the good graces of the Obama administration until this past month, when she testified before a House committee about what U.S. News & World Report describes as "agents who repeatedly attended sex parties with prostitutes that were funded by drug cartel members."

Jared Polis is among lawmakers championed by the new #IVoteCannabis campaign.
Jared Polis is among lawmakers championed by the new #IVoteCannabis campaign.
Cannabis Global Initiative

As the publication notes, seven of the ten agents in question received minor suspensions, but none were fired.

Her answers about the lack of substantial punishment didn't win over her audience. Afterward, committee chair Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, and numerous other members from both major parties offered de facto no-confidence votes in regard to Leonhart, who subsequently confirmed her intention to resign. The presumption: She jumped before she could be pushed.

Now, Polis and a group of additional lawmakers have sent Obama a letter urging that the new DEA head not be a Leonhart clone. Here's an excerpt:

“The DEA plays a critical role in promoting the health and safety of Americans. But to succeed in its mission, it must refocus its efforts on cracking down on bad actors who seek to evade state laws rather than those who abide by them. All of us share a commitment to keeping drugs out of the hands of children, diminishing the reach of criminal cartels, and helping individuals who are addicted to drugs find the help they need to turn their lives around.

“To accomplish these aims, the DEA must end its resistance to the changing public consensus on marijuana use and stop expending its limited resources to prosecute individuals who are not a threat to public safety and, instead, focus on drug activity that poses a more serious risk."

Below, find the complete letter, followed by the 2012 response to Colorado's request that the DEA reschedule marijuana.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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