It was a little over a year ago when the United States Department of Justice announced that it would back away from pursuing cases against medical marijuana patients and providers who are acting in accordance with state and local laws.
"As a general matter, pursuit of [federal law enforcement] priorities should not focus federal resources... on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana," The DOJ announced on October 19, 2009. "For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources."
Apparently Michelle Leonhart, President Obama's nominee to direct the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, didn't get the memo.
Speaking yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on day one of her Senate confirmation process, Leonhart pledged to ignore the administration's formal medical marijuana guidelines:
Acting director Michele Leonhart is that much closer to officially heading up the Drug Enforcement Agency after successfully navigating a hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
If confirmed to the position she's already held for three years, Leonhart said she would expand the DEA's anti-cartel operations in Mexicoand continue to enforce federal drug laws in states where medical marijuana is legal.
...Perhaps due to the failure of Prop 19 in California (and despite the passage of medical marijuana in Arizona), Kohl, along with Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Al Franken of Minnesota, made no mention of medical marijuana. Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, however, made it his prime focus.
"I'm a big fan of the DEA," said Sessions, before asking Leonhart point blank if she would fight medical marijuana legalization.
"I have seen what marijuana use has done to young people, I have seen the abuse, I have seen what it's done to families. It's bad," Leonhart said. "If confirmed as administrator, we would continue to enforce the federal drug laws."
"These legalization efforts sound good to people," Sessions quipped. "They say, 'We could just end the problem of drugs if we could just make it legal.' But any country that's tried that, Alaska and other places have tried it, have failed. It does not work," Sessions said.
"We need people who are willing to say that. Are you willing to say that?" Sessions asked Leonhart.
"Yes, I've said that, senator. You're absolutely correct [about] the social costs from drug abuse, especially from marijuana," Leonhart said. "Legalizers say it will help the Mexican cartel situation; it won't. It will allow states to balance budgets; it won't. No one is looking [at] the social costs of legalizing drugs."
It is shocking to learn that not a single Senator who attended the hearing, in particular Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island, had the courage to demand that Ms. Leonhart respect the laws of the 15 states that have legalized the use of marijuana as a medicine. In the case of Sen. Whitehouse, his own state is now in the process of licensing state-certified marijuana providers and distributors; yet he appears to have no problem with the idea of appointing a federal official who declares her intention to put his own constituents in federal prison.
It gets even more disturbing. In the days leading up to Wednesday's initial confirmation hearing, a coalition of advocacy groups -- including NORML, Americans for Safe Access, and others called on members of the Senate Judiciary to ask Ms. Leonhart tough questions regarding her public record, one that is incompatible with state laws, public opinion, and with the policies of this administration. Yet not a single Senator did so.
There is a growing divide between state and federal law concerning the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and it would only take members of the Senate -- or Ms. Leonhart for that matter -- a cursory scan of today's google headlines to see it:
New Mexico approves six new medical marijuana producers
via The New Mexico Independent
Maine couple cleared to open marijuana clinic
via The Associated Press
DC revises medical marijuana regulations
As we've written before, as Interim DEA director, Leonhart has overseen dozens of federal raids on medical marijuana providers, producers, and laboratory facilities that engage in the testing of cannabis potency and quality. Yesterday Leonhart pledged to continue these actions -- actions that violate this administration's own written policies, and more importantly, actions that target the civilians of fifteen states and the District of Columbia. These people are the constituents of 30 percent of the U.S. Senate; yet not even one of these elected officials appears willing to speak up for them. That is disgraceful.
Want to write or call your Senator about Leonhart's nomination process? You can still do so here and here.