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Marijuana Policy Project petition: Fire DEA head critical of Obama's pot comments

Last week, Denver-based Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert called President Obama's comments suggesting that marijuana may be less harmful than alcohol "refreshing." But his group, a major backer of Colorado's Amendment 64, is considerably less impressed by statements attributed to Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart, who's widely perceived as an obstacle to progressive pot policy -- so much so that the MPP has launched a petition calling for the President to fire her. Details, videos and more below.As noted by Dan Riffle, the MPP's director of federal policies, Leonhart made headlines in 2012 after an exchange with Colorado Representative Jared Polis. Under questioning from Polis during a Congressional hearing, Leonhart refused to say that heroin was worse than cannabis. Here's a video of their conversation.

Then, last week, the Boston Herald quoted Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson as saying that during an appearance at a Major Counties Sheriffs' Association meeting, Leonhart was highly critical of comments Obama made about marijuana in a recent interview with the New Yorker . "She's frustrated for the same reasons we are," Hodgson told the paper. "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."

Oh yeah: Polis was the driving force behind the hemp flag's Capitol appearance. Hemp, of course, lacks sufficient amounts of the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana to get users high. The sheriffs responded to Leonhart's comments with a standing ovation, Hodgson told the Herald. But Riffle isn't cheering. "I think it's normal to expect career drug warriors, folks who've been in the DEA for twenty or thirty years, to be upset about the fact that marijuana is become legal in a number of states," he says. "But at the end of the day, they're employees of the administration. In fact, Leonhart is an appointee of the administration, which has said for a long time that it wants science and the scientific process to inform its decisions. And she's very clearly violating that pledge by refusing to recognize very clear scientific evidence." Regarding the question of whether marijuana is more harmful to the individual user than alcohol, Riffle points out that even former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who heads Project SAM, an anti-marijuana-legalization organization launched in Colorado circa January 2013, agreed with Obama's assessment during a recent appearance on CNN. Here's that clip. Kennedy's statement about the relative risks of marijuana and alcohol come at about the six minute mark, after he's spent a good deal of time arguing that cannabis sales should remain against the law.

In Riffle's opinion, Leonhart's comments to the sheriff's organization undercuts the administration in ways the President cannot allow to stand. "Can you imagine an employee of a private-sector company publicly and openly criticizing the CEO of the company?" he asks. "They'd be fired immediately. And there's no reason why we should treat a government official any differently." Hence, the petition calling for her ouster. Continue for more about the call to fire DEA head Michele Leonhart, including the complete Marijuana Policy Project petition.

We're reproduced the entire petition below. But here's an excerpt from a letter signees are encouraged to send to the President:

Administrator Leonhart has fundamentally undermined your 2009 mandate that, "Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of [his] Administration ..." We call on you to remove her from her current position of DEA administrator and replace her with someone who will base his or her decisions on science and evidence instead of politics and ideology.

At this writing, the petition, on the Change.org website, has been signed by more than 5,600 people. Adds Riffle: "This is not just us saying we'd like to have a head of the DEA who's friendly toward marijuana reform. This is someone who's violating the mandate of this administration. Here's the petition:

Fire Anti-Marijuana DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart! In a recent speech, DEA administrator Michele Leonhart criticized President Barack Obama for his acknowledgement that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol in terms of its impact on the consumer. Yet there is an abundance of research demonstrating that marijuana is in fact less harmful than alcohol. Leonhart has consistently demonstrated a reckless disregard of such scientific evidence. Under her watch, the DEA has obstructed attempts to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act -- a classification reserved for the most dangerous drugs -- and at a 2012 House committee hearing, she refused to answer a congressman's simple question about whether heroin and crack cocaine pose more harm to the consumer than marijuana. Shortly after taking office, President Obama mandated, "Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of [his] Administration...." Whether Leonhart is ignorant of the facts or intentionally disregarding them, she has fundamentally undermined the president's directive and is clearly unfit for her current position. We call on President Obama to immediately terminate DEA Administrator Leonhart and replace her with someone who recognizes the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. To: President Barack Obama In a recent speech, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart publicly criticized you for acknowledging the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol in terms of its impact on the consumer. In addition to her insubordinate comments, her agency has denied attempts to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act -- a classification reserved for the most dangerous drugs -- and refused to answer a congressman's simple question about whether heroin and crack cocaine pose more harm to the consumer than marijuana. Administrator Leonhart has fundamentally undermined your 2009 mandate that, "Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of [his] Administration ..." We call on you to remove her from her current position of DEA administrator and replace her with someone who will base his or her decisions on science and evidence instead of politics and ideology. Sincerely, [Your name]

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts. See more from our Videos archive circa June 2012: "Video: Jared Polis destroys DEA boss, who won't say heroin's worse than pot."


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