Pot advocates go ape over Obama's DEA pick

January 31, 2010

Josh Richman, Oakland Tribune

Medical marijuana advocates aren't happy with President Barack Obama's announcement yesterday that he's nominating Michelle Leonhart, the Drug Enforcement Administration's acting administrator since 2007, to keep the job permanently. "The retention of this Bush-era holdover is a profound disappointment to all of us who hoped that Obama would bring meaningful change to Washington," Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said today.

Kris Hermes, a spokesman for the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, noted that Leonhart "was the deputy administrator under Karen Tandy when Tandy conducted under the Bush administration essentially scores of raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, probably over 200," and continued the raids after Tandy left through the end of Bush's tenure.

"If Obama is trying to signal change on medical marijuana, he's certainly not engendering a lot of trust with the medical marijuana movement by reappointing someone who has engaged in such aggressive tactics," Hermes said.

Marijuana Policy Project Communications Director Kurt Gardinier agreed that although his group has "been pleased with the change in policy Mr. Holder instituted regarding state medical marijuana laws, we are disappointed that President Obama nominated the person who presided over some of the most egregious DEA activities targeting medical marijuana patients and providers during the Bush administration."

Hermes and Gieringer both noted Leonhart overruled a DEA administrative law judge's decision and blocked approval for a University of Massachusetts project to grow research-grade marijuana for use in clinical studies of marijuana's efficacy as medicine — a major stumbling block on the path toward marijuana's eventual removal from the Controlled Substances Act's list of most-restricted drugs.

"If there's one thing on which supporters and critics of medical marijuana agree, it's the need for FDA studies," Gieringer said. "This appointment calls into question whether the administration has any desire to move toward FDA regulation or abandon the bankrupt policies of its predecessors."

Obama's nomination of Leonhart is subject to U.S. Senate confirmation.

"Definitely, we are going to urge politicians to scrutinize her history and the appropriateness of her for being in this position," Hermes said.

I've asked for comment from U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and will update if/when I hear from them.

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