Image of Loretta Lynch, new US Attorney General 4-2105
 
The cannabis industry may be thrilled that the Administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Michelle Leonhart is stepping down, but with the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as the new Attorney General it may not matter.
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During her confirmation hearings Lynch said she did not support the legalization of marijuana and did not agree with President Obama that marijuana was less dangerous than alcohol. Almost the same positions held by Leonhart.
 
Leonhart has had a rocky tenure capped off by the recently issued report on sexual misconduct from the The Office of Inspector General (OIG). On April 14th the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the allegations of sexual misconduct and Leonhart, who has never performed well during these types of hearings, once again dug her own grave.
 
The agents under her watch engaged in sex parties funded by the very drug cartels they were supposed to be working against. Some special agents also received money, expensive gifts and weapons from the drug cartels as well. No one lost their jobs and the worst punishment was between a 2 day and 10 day paid suspension. The Congressmen were very frustrated and disbelieving when she insisted she wasn’t able to fire the employees.
 
In addition, the DEA did not give the OIG access to the open misconduct case and many interviewed said they were told not to help the OIG. Leonhart told the committee she couldn’t provide the information because of technology limitations – that she couldn’t do the computer searches asked of her. Then Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General sitting right next to her threw her under the bus and said that she told him she wouldn’t provide information for the investigation because of privacy issues. As they say in the DEA – busted. This past week, Leonhart announced she was resigning following a bi-partisan vote of no confidence in her leadership.
 
Leonhart had been derided by many in the pro-cannabis community for her positions on marijuana. She famously refused to state that marijuana was less dangerous than crack. She refused to stand down on marijuana raids even after Attorney General Holder said it wasn’t a priority. She also openly disagreed with President Obama. Many have been surprised she held on as long as she did.
 
“I don’t know any high level ranking federal official to go before congress and directly criticize the president and still have their job,” said Kris Krane, Managing Partner of 4Front Advisors and a former Associate Director of NORML. “It’s amazing she was able to survive that.”
 
Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen said, “It is appropriate that Michelle Leonhart resign; she has not prioritized or concentrated on drugs that actually lead people to commit crimes like heroin and methamphetamine and she was insubordinate to the President when she criticized his acknowledgement of the fact that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol.”
 
Dan Riffle Director of Federal Policies at the Marijuana Policy Project takes an even bolder approach suggesting “More importantly, the president should use this opportunity to reevaluate what the DEA’s job is, and whether that’s something we even need anymore. The DEA was created in 1973 by Richard Nixon when he launched the so-called “War on Drugs.” Today, public opinion polls show the War on Drugs is incredibly unpopular because just about everybody understands it has been a catastrophic failure that causes more harm than good. The president himself has said many times that we must end the “War on Drugs,” and that marijuana should be treated as a public health issue more than a criminal justice one. If he believes that, then it’s time to stop putting the police in charge of drug policy.
 
Even if the new head of the DEA is more marijuana friendly, it doesn’t look like they’ll have an ally in Lynch. Lynch has said that Federal laws should be enforced and for now that means marijuana is a schedule I drug and a controlled substance. If a new DEA head chooses to reclassify marijuana, then Lynch will have to fall in line.
 
“The DEA is a weird agency in that it both enforces the law by investigating illegal drug manufacturing and distribution, and helps dettermine the law by, for example, determining drug schedules, licensing researchers, and determining who can produce drugs for research. There’s a troubling inherent conflict there, and I think we have to pick one of the other,” said Riffle.
 
For now, no names have been put forward as to who will replace Leonhart and she is expected to remain in the job for another month. Riffle said he’d like to see someone in the job with a public health background. “If the DEA’s job is law enforcement, then it should be folded into the FBI or another agency. After all, as the president and drug czar have said repeatedly we’re not going to arrest and prosecute our way out of the problem. But if the DEA is to retain its traditional oversight role in the scientific process and research into medical marijuana and other substances, then we should appoint someone with a public health background to fill the role.”
 
Cohen also has his wish list. “Hopefully, her successor will help lead the effort to reschedule marijuana from Schedule I, where it is currently restricted at the same level as heroin and at a higher level than more harmful drugs like cocaine.”
 
Whoever is chosen for the position at the DEA will be facing a rapidly changing drug landscape. The new administrator will be stuck between citizens who are becoming less concerned about illegal marijuana, a Congress that has multiple forms of marijuana legislation it is considering and an new Attorney General that is not pot friendly. 
 
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