DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart reportedly told a group of sheriffs at a closed-door conference in Washington that she was frustrated by the administration’s recent openness toward state legalization. Although Leonhart’s remarks were not made publicly, her pointed references to the president could put her job in jeopardy.
“She was honest,” Mike H. Leidholt, president of the National Sheriffs’ Association, told the Herald. “She may get fired. But she was honest.”
The administration so far has shown itself willing to let Colorado’s and Washington’s experiments with marijuana legalization move ahead. But those baby steps toward respecting state legislation appear to have sown dissension at the DEA.
Leonhart, a former Baltimore cop and long-time DEA agent before ascending to the agency’s top role, staunchly opposes mainstreaming marijuana use. In 2012 House Judiciary testimony, she refused to answer a question from Colorado Rep. Jared Polis (D) about whether she thought crack or heroin were worse for a person’s health than marijuana. She said in December that legalization sends “mixed messages” to high-schoolers, and this month, one of her top deputies told Congress that legalization is “reckless and irresponsible.”
Leonhart also appears to have been upset by a flag made of hemp that flew over the U.S. Capitol on July 4 at the behest of Polis.
Bristol County, Mass., Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson told the Herald that “she said her lowest point in 33 years in the DEA was when she learned they’d flown a hemp flag over the Capitol on July 4. The sheriffs were all shocked. This is the first time in 28 years I’ve ever heard anyone in her position be this candid.”
The flag was made with industrial hemp, which is not a drug.
“This shows how shockingly out of touch Michele Leonhart is,” Polis told HuffPost in an email Saturday. “You would think that one of her lowest points would have been when she completely embarrassed herself by failing to state the obvious scientific fact that marijuana is less harmful and addictive than heroin. Almost half a million Americans saw her make a fool of herself.”
A DEA spokeswoman contacted by the Herald did not comment on Leonhart’s remarks, but reiterated the agency’s opposition to legalization. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.
Aside from Obama’s statements, it also appears that Leonhart was incensed that the unofficial White House softball team squared off against a marijuana reformers’ team in a game covered exclusively by HuffPost. The White House staffers lost.
Tom Angell, founder of the reform group Marijuana Majority, told HuffPost in an email that he doesn’t expect Leonhart to be fired for her “insubordinate speech.”
“But in light of the president’s newfound boldness in speaking out about the unfairness of marijuana prohibition enforcement, he should take the opportunity to significantly reform federal marijuana policy and rearrange the agencies that have mismanaged it for so long,” he said.