DEA Chief Michele Leonhart Changes Attitude After Meeting With Eric Holder

DEA Chief Michele Leonhart has made headlines more than once this year for her publicized negative comments about the growing cannabis industry. Contrary to her continued prohibitionist agenda, the Obama administration (officially represented by Attorney General Eric Holder in this matter) has been letting legalization efforts proceed unhindered. In fact, as the Huffington Post reports, prison sentencing reform has become “a critical, second-term legacy item” for Holder and President Obama: they are striving to dial back a federal system that has sought to impose incredibly long sentences for even nonviolent drug-related crimes since the advent of the infamous War on Drugs. This effort culminates in the Attorney General’s recent initiative, the Smarter Sentencing Act.

Leonhart, however, has expressed an entirely different agenda. She has faced criticism for her refusal to acknowledge that marijuana is categorically less dangerous than other narcotics currently classified alongside it as Schedule 1 substances, such as heroin or LSD. Additionally, her decrying remarks have been publicly recognized as intentionally undermining the Attorney General and the President on this issue, and many have asked why her superiors have allowed such direct opposition from a subordinate.

Things came to a head recently, when Leonhart spoke to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on the subject of mandatory minimum sentencing, emphasizing the system’s usefulness in granting legal leverage over defendants. This remark was recognized by some as a grim sign that the DEA’s chief administrator opposed the president’s plan to enact sentencing reform, and in fact supported legal strategies that directly employed tactics such as fear mongering and the unfair repression of citizen liberties. These concerns led to a conversation between Leonhart and Holder on the subject.

Following that conversation, the DEA released a statement expressing Leonhart’s public support for the reforms of the Smarter Sentencing Act, which will reign in the deployment of harsh mandatory minimum sentences against nonviolent drug offenders. “The Administrator believes mandatory minimums in general can be an important tool in DEA investigations, but she supports the Attorney General’s sentencing reform initiative to ensure those sentences are imposed appropriately,” read one section of the statement.

Leonhart’s admission, however, is contradicted by continued DEA efforts to impede all facets of the legalization movement. Recent headlines, for example, detail a scandal between the organization and the state of Kentucky, wherein the former was being sued by the latter for confiscating some 250 lbs. of imported Italian hemp seeds for the state’s fully-legalized pilot hemp program. The DEA ordered customs officials to impound the seeds and has physically endangered the state’s first hemp crop in decades. Earlier this year, Leonhart decried the president’s comments about marijuana’s physical harmlessness to a room full of sheriffs, and even claimed that the flying of a hemp American flag over the U.S. Capitol marked the lowest point in her career — she has since been informed such comments were inappropriate.

It would seem that the current administration has, for some reason, a certain attachment to the DEA’s current chief administrator: very little else would explain why she has retained her position despite continually expressing complete disregard for any alterations to the U.S.’s outdated drug policies and the persistently progressive opinions expressed by Attorney General Holder, President Obama, and the majority of the American public.


Photo Credit: Duncan Brown

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