Senate Judiciary Committee blocks Leonhart nomination to head DEA

Acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart… you've been Kohl-blocked!

As NORML has warned, President Obama has nominated Michele Leonhart to head the Drug Enforcement Administration. Leonhart has been serving as Acting DEA Administrator since her appointment by the Bush Administration. Now during confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) has placed a hold on the nomination.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Sen. Kohl was upset about DEA restrictions on how nursing homes are allowed to dispense pain medications to elderly patients. New regulations intended to stem the diversion of addictive painkillers to the underground market would require nursing homes to have doctors, not nurses or other staff, to dispense medications like Oxycontin and Vicodin. The economic realities of the nursing home market do not allow these facilities to always have the necessary doctors on staff, leading to long wait times, under-treatment of pain, and suffering for elderly patients in pain.

Sen. Kohl placed the hold, an privilege of senators that prevents Leonhart’s nomination from proceeding to the full Senate, “until we have made more progress towards our goal of ensuring that nursing home residents get timely access to the prescription drug care they need,” said Kohl. “Every day nursing home patients continue to suffer from agonizing pain and we need an interim solution as soon as possible.”

NORML applauds any reason to prevent Leonhart from assuming the role of DEA Administrator.  However, we hope Sen. Kohl and the remainder of the Judiciary Committee also consider the nominee’s positions on medical marijuana and the Mexican Drug War as further indications she is unfit for the position.

If Sen. Kohl is concerned about nursing home patients continuing to suffer in agonizing pain, then Leonhart’s opposition to the fifteen states that provide medical marijuana to elderly patients should also be of concern.  As Acting Administrator, Leonhart has green-lighted at least thirty raids of medical marijuana dispensaries.  These raids run contrary to the directive of her boss, Attorney General Holder, who specified that scarce federal law enforcement resources should not be expended on medical marijuana operations running lawfully under state laws.  The medical marijuana from these dispensaries has been shown to relieve neuropathic pain as well as stave off the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and lessen the effects of arthritis – all beneficial for the elderly nursing home community.

All members of the committee should be wary of Leonhart’s views of the rapidly destabilizing Mexican state due to the drug war.  Just today the WikiLeaks dump of foreign diplomatic cables reveals a Mexican drug war plan that “lacks a clear strategy” and “suffers from infighting among security agencies” according to the Washington Post.  The leaks have insiders calling the $1.4 billion “Merida Initiative” of aid to Mexico “ill-conceived and doing little so far to fight drug traffickers.”

Yet Acting Administrator Leonhart, when questioned about the now 31,000 Mexicans now dead in the drug-trafficking wars since 2006, said “Our view is that the violence we have been seeing is a signpost of the success our very courageous Mexican counterparts are having. The cartels are acting out like caged animals, because they are caged animals.”  Where WikiLeaks reveals American and Mexican officials secretly doubting the effectiveness of our $1.4 billion strategy, Leonhart is selling it lock, stock, and barrel to the taxpayers.

Of further concern in the Leonhart nomination to head the DEA is her opposition to the science on cannabis.  She has refused to act on an eight-year-old petition supported by NORML to reschedule cannabis out of Schedule I where it is deemed to have “no medicinal value”; this is inexcusable stonewalling in the face of fifteen US states that recognize cannabis’ medicinal value, the calls from the American Medical Association for its rescheduling, and the federal government’s own patent on the medicinal properties of cannabinoids.  Leonhart has even refused to heed the declaration of a DEA judge in the petition of Professor Lyle Craker, whom the judge said should be allowed to grow cannabis for scientific research.

You can still write or call your Senator about Ms. Leonhart’s nomination process – to do so click here and here.  Tell your Senator to support Sen. Kohl’s opposition to Michele Leonhart for DEA Administrator and demand President Obama nominate an administrator who will be open-minded on the science of medical marijuana and willing to reasonably discuss the end of the drug war altogether.

View full post on NORML Blog, Marijuana Law Reform