A bipartisan group of seven lawmakers today called on the president to fire the acting leader of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenberg. They join nearly 100,000 people who've signed an online petition similarly calling for Rosenberg's removal after he infuriated patients and advocates by dismissing medical marijuana as "a joke" earlier this month.
Rosenberg's statements are "indicative of a throwback ideology rooted in a failed War on Drugs," the letter, spearheaded by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D.-Or.), begins. "They do not reflect the overwhelming body of testimonial evidence, reforms happening across the country at the state level and in Congress, or the opinion of the American people."
Rosenberg became the acting administrator of the DEA just six months ago, after public and Congressional outcry over a series of scandals under the leadership of then-Administrator Michele Leonhart. Marijuana advocates had hoped that Rosenberg's appointment would signal a change in tone at the DEA, particularly on marijuana issues. Instead, Rosenberg's tenure has become notable for how quickly advocates and lawmakers have soured on his leadership.
Earlier this summer Rosenberg remarked that marijuana was "probably not" as dangerous as heroin. Given that there's overwhelming agreement among researchers, lawmakers and the public that marijuana is not, in fact, as dangerous as harder drugs, the statement provoked ridicule and prompted Rosenberg to say definitively a few days later that heroin is indeed more dangerous than pot.
"Well over one million people use marijuana -- smoked or otherwise -- in accordance with state law to relieve symptoms associated with chemotherapy, glaucoma, PTSD, chronic pain and more," the lawmakers' letter states. Studies have generally found that marijuana is effective at treating pain, especially in place of more dangerous prescription painkillers.
In response to a request for comment, the DEA directed me to a statement it issued last week saying "to clarify, Acting Administrator Rosenberg indicated that marijuana should be subject to the same levels of approval and scrutiny as any other substance intended for use as a medicine. DEA supports efforts to research potential medical uses of marijuana. To this end, DEA has never denied a registration request from anyone conducting marijuana research using FDA approved protocols."
Researchers, however, point out that the DEA has been a major roadblock to marijuana research over the years. Last month the Brookings Institution issued a scathing report arguing that the "federal government is stifling medical research in a rapidly transforming area of public policy that has consequences for public health and public safety." The report details how the DEA has traditionally opposed loosening restrictions on medical marijuana research by denying appeals to reschedule the drug, sometimes against the guidance of federal judges.
"The DEA itself has been integral to limiting access to marijuana that can be legally used for research, creating bottleneck and uncertainty challenges for potential researchers," the lawmakers write. Currently, all marijuana used for research purposes in the U.S. must come from a single facility at the University of Mississippi.
"Through his statements, Mr. Rosenberg has demonstrated he is not the right person to hold the job as head of the DEA and we urge you to find new leadership that can work to develop the right tools to properly rationalize our treatment of marijuana," the lawmakers conclude.
"The call for change at DEA is picking up steam" said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, the group that started the petition, in a statement. "Now a bipartisan group of lawmakers has placed this controversy right on President Obama’s desk. If he doesn’t act to make a change soon, this is going to be a continuing political problem for his administration."
Angell's group plans to deliver the nearly 100,000 petition signatures to DEA's headquarters tomorrow morning.