Obama Wants a Bush Crony Appointed as a Top Drug Enforcer -- Reformers Push Hard to Change His Mind

A number of medical marijuana advocacy organizations are urging President Obama to withdraw his nomination of Michele Leonhart to serve as the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Leonhart was nominated to be the Deputy Administrator by President Bush in 2003 and confirmed by the Senate in 2004. She has been the acting Administrator of the DEA since the former Administrator, Karen P. Tandy, resigned in November of 2007.

After the resignation of Tandy, President Bush nominated Leonhart to be the next Administrator, but the Senate Judiciary Committee did not hold any hearings on the nomination and, after the adjournment of the 110th Congress in January of 2009, the nomination was returned to President Obama.

On February 2nd, 2010, President Obama officially nominated Leonhart. The nomination is currently awaiting hearings and confirmation from the Senate.

The Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Marijuana Policy Project, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and Students for Sensible Drug Policy are among the groups calling on the President Obama to withdraw his nomination.

According to a joint press release issued on Wednesday, these groups claim Leonhart "has not demonstrated that she is capable of leading the agency in a thoughtful manner at a time when 14 states have enacted medical marijuana laws and science is increasingly confirming the therapeutic benefits of the substance."

Of concern to these groups, under Leonhart's administration, the DEA has raided a number of legal medical marijuana growers and dispensaries. In one case, the DEA raided the very first person to register for a medical marijuana cultivation permit, a sixty-nine year old woman from Mendocino County in California, even though her personal marijuana garden had been inspected and approved by the local sheriff.

As reported by The Press Democrat, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff, the medical marijuana grower had the proper paperwork and the marijuana was legal in the eyes of the county.

"Michele Leonhart continues to wage war on sick people and their caregivers, undermining the Obama Administration's otherwise compassionate medical marijuana policy," said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Obama needs to withdraw her nomination and nominate someone who will follow the stated policies of his administration."

As reported by The New York Times in 2008, Attorney General Eric Holder has claimed that the Obama administration would end the Bush administration's policy of raiding medical marijuana dispensaries and restrict itself to only raiding drug traffickers who “use medical marijuana laws as a shield.”

In addition, Deputy Attorney General David Ogden told federal agents in an 2009 memo to not target people in "clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."

The coalition of marijuana advocacy groups also believe Leonhart should not be nominated because she has disrupted marijuana research in the past. In 2009, she refused to issue a license to the University of Massachusetts to cultivate marijuana for a FDA-approved study.

"With Leonhart’s nomination pending, one would expect her to be more -- not less -- respectful of the Department of Justice and the rights of individuals in medical marijuana states," noted Steve Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Such behavior is an ominous sign for the future of the DEA under her leadership."


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