Drug policy activists nationwide are elated that DEA administrator Michele Leonhart is stepping down. The straw that finally broke the camel’s back was an embarrassing sex party scandal involving her agents. The Drug Policy Alliance has arranged a comprehensive list of the DEA’s misdeeds under the administration of Leonhart as well: a secret surveillance program rivaling the NSA, constant raiding of medical marijuana dispensaries, and the extensive use of questionable informants to explode the prison population.
Leonhart presided over and carried out the War on Drugs without mercy during the past seven and half years. Utilizing political inertia, brute force and bureaucratic clout, she was able to keep her agency afloat despite substantial resistance to the drug war nationwide. However, her successor certainly will have a much harder job ahead, facing the repercussions of both the sex scandal and increasing push-back from states and the public.
There is no reason for optimism that her replacement will be more receptive to reform. If the past is any indication, we know that by a simple administrative fiat, the head of the DEA could easily re-schedule cannabis, but every administrator has refused to make this sensible move. This has been the case even after DEA’s own administrative judge ruled that cannabis does not belong as a Schedule I substance as early as 1988! This shows that the DEA (and the entire federal government, for that matter) cares more about its own power than science or reason.
The DEA’s breathtaking stubbornness is not that surprising as individuals who made their living for decades locking cannabis users in cages are unlikely to admit they were doing something wrong the entire time. And to this day, no former head of the DEA has spoken out against destroying countless lives in their futile crusade. When Washington and Colorado voters took historically significant steps to legalize cannabis, the feds re-grouped to call for violent intervention to smother the new sensible laws.
The next administrator will likely be someone that has risen through the ranks within the agency or otherwise has a long history in law enforcement. Even if the potential nominee has doubts regarding the drug war or cannabis, they will likely be too afraid to air these views publicly during the confirmation hearings, not to mention actually acting upon them as a new DEA head. The influence and power of the prohibitionist old guards are simply too entrenched on the federal level for any sensible reforms to come from the top-down.
To be fair, there are many DEA agents and other law enforcement officials that have undergone a change of heart. Law Enforcement against Prohibition (LEAP) is a collection of those voices that have realized the dangers of the drug war.
I agree with Peter Guither of Drug War Rant that neither Leonhart nor the sex parties are the real problem. They are only the symptoms of the illegitimate and failed War on Drugs. When one Leonhart leaves, there will be more people of her mindset lining up to take her role. Monolithic, centralized institutions like the DEA are the crux of the problem.
To change the system, state and local resistance to the drug war must continue. We can take action at the state and local levels to ensure that the DEA, whoever the head of that organization may be, cannot enforce their terrible laws upon us. The feds rely on the states to do a lot of their drug war dirty work. Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have proven that the feds cannot enact marijuana prohibition by the,selves. Thousands of legal marijuana smokers in those states, toking legally and sticking it to the feds while doing so, have proven that. Join us, and help us hasten the end of the drug war. It is the only way we can stop the police state and achieve Peace on our Streets.