Marijuana advocates hope the departure of the longtime chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will pave the way for more relaxed drug policies from the Obama administration.
Michele Leonhart, who has served atop the DEA since 2007, will resign following an alleged sex scandal by some agents under her watch, according to reports.
Pot lobbyists are hoping to capitalize on Leonhart’s resignation by pressuring the administration to replace her with a more weed-friendly chief.
“Hopefully, her resignation will mark the end of the ‘Reefer Madness’ era at the DEA,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project.
President Obama has suggested over the years he could be open to more relaxed marijuana laws — at one point even arguing that pot is “not more harmful” than alcohol.
But marijuana reformers have long criticized Leonhart for enforcing a drug policy that they believe is “out of step with the Obama administration,” as says Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Marijuana is still listed among federally banned drugs like heroin. So even though many states have legalized pot, the federal government can go after those who partake under this paradox.
DEA crackdowns on medical and recreational marijuana shops that are legal in their respective states but run afoul of federal law have angered many activists and lawmakers.
The DEA’s drug policies under Leonhart “recklessly undermined” Obama’s views on marijuana with a “mindset straight out of the 1930s,” Riffle said.
“She was insubordinate to the president when she criticized his acknowledgement of the fact that marijuana is ‘no more harmful than alcohol,’ ” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said in a statement.
With Leonhart stepping aside, pot advocates say this is an opportunity for the president to appoint someone who is more favorable to marijuana reform.
At a minimum, they would like to see marijuana moved out of Schedule 1 of the DEA’s list of federally banned drugs so it can be studied for scientific research.
“It’s an opportunity for President Obama to nominate someone who recognizes that the drug war is coming to an end, that what we’ve been doing for decades is not working,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.