Michele Leonhart quits top DEA job

According to the New York Times, Attorney General Anthony Holder has announced that Michele M. Leonhart, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, has elected to retire.

Leonhart has been an outspoken drug warrior for years. She had been the Deputy Administrator at the DEA since 2004 when, in 2007, her predecessor resigned and Leonhart assumed the role of Acting Administrator. In 2010, President Obama nominated her for the top job, thus deleting the word “Acting” from her title.

Leonhart’s relationship with Congress has always been a stormy one. She almost lost the top job before even being confirmed after infuriating the House Committee on Aging by allowing her agency to interfere with the ability of nurses to prescribe painkillers to seniors in nursing homes, condemning a generation of suffering individuals to a form of deliberate torture. Later battles included her steadfast refusal to admit that cannabis was less harmful than cannabis during testimony that was widely viewed and derided on YouTube.  She also created a firestorm of controversy when she stated that dead kids were signs that we were “winning the war on drugs” and she created another round of derision when she suggested that cannabis legalization could be dangerous to pets because they might eat cannabis edibles (which are less dangerous to pets than the jackbooted thugs from the DEA).

Her latest Congressional fiasco occurred on April 14, 2015, during which time she was chastised by Congressmen for her handling of the Colombia sex scandal, which involved DEA agents frolicking with whores who paid for by Colombian drug cartels while Colombian police watched over the American agents’ weaponry. These behaviors occurred repeatedly from 2001 to 2008 and Leonhart’s reaction was to remain uninvolved. She did however at one point demonstrate her courageous leadership by firing off a memo.

During the April 14 hearing, her competency was clearly and explicitly called into question while Congressman Jason Chaffetz strongly implied that she was being dishonest in her testimony.

Leonhart was a hardline drug warrior who sent her armies to harass the citizens of states with medical cannabis programs and who once told a gathering of law enforcement officers that the low point of her career was on July 4 when a US flag made of hemp flew over the White House. (Of course, if you view the various recordings of her various testimonies in front of Congress on YouTube then you will probably conclude (as have I) that her career has had several points that were far lower than that!) Her tenure was repeatedly marred by scandal and incompetence, such as:

  • The Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General currently has six open investigations into numerous DEA scandals, including the massacre of civilians in Honduras, the use of NSA data to both spy on virtually all Americans and to systematically fabricate evidence, and controversial uses of confidential informants.
  • DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart herself has been at the center of several scandals, including the House of Death scandal in which the DEA may have turned a blind eye to torture and murder, and the Andrew Chambers scandal, in which the DEA rehired a confidential informant with a history of lying.
  • DEA conflicts with Obama administration policy. Last year, Leonhart publicly rebuked President Obama for admitting that marijuana is as safe as alcohol, told members of Congress that the DEA will continue to go after marijuana even in states where it is legal despite DOJ guidance stating otherwise, and spoke out against bipartisan drug sentencing reform in Congress that the Obama administration is supporting.
  • Last May, The DEA created a political firestorm this week when it seized seeds bound for a Kentucky hemp research program that was approved by Congress. Then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the incident “an outrage” and the Kentucky Agriculture Department sued the DEA.  
  • The DEA’s refusal to acknowledge science. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart has on several occasions ignored science and overruled the DEA’s own administrative law judges on medical issues relating to marijuana.

[Source: The Drug Policy Alliance]

Leonhart’s departure gives Obama the opportunity to appoint a more enlightened leader for this job, although many scholars suggest that the agency would be best disbanded altogether. However, given his selection of the astonishingly unsuitable Loretta Lynch for the Attorney General spot, it is not clear or even likely that the next DEA Administrator will be any better than the one we’ve finally just shaken off.



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