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DEA Chief Now Fully Commits to Cannabis Being Safer Than Heroin

Last week we had a little fun with DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg's claim that cannabis is "probably not" as dangerous as heroin and that he's "not an expert," a troubling admission from an individual whose job is to lead the Drug Enforcement Administration's efforts in combating drug smuggling and illicit use in the U.S. Since then, Rosenberg must have brushed up on his drug facts because on Wednesday he told reporters that "heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana."

Rosenberg acknowledged that his previous remarks about cannabis vs. heroin should have been clearer, although he still regards cannabis to be "harmful and dangerous." Heroin shares Schedule I status with cannabis, which means both drugs are defined as having "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." The DEA believes Schedule I drugs are "the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence."

Disturbingly, heroin overdose deaths in the United States appear to be rising sharply (whereas we have yet to see an overdose death directly caused by excessive cannabis consumption). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently conducted a study and found the number of overdose deaths to nearly triple between 2010 and 2013, with 23 Americans on average dying each day. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has noted a 5-fold increase in the total number of heroin overdose deaths from 2001 to 2013, with the death rate for males occurring at nearly four times the rate for females.

National Overdose Deaths from Heroin (via the National Institute on Drug Abuse)

In light of this concerning data, Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, reacted to Rosenberg's acknowledgement of the dangers of heroin thusly:

"It's sort of remarkable that a DEA chief simply saying heroin is more dangerous than marijuana could actually make news. I guess that's a reflection of how out of touch his predecessor [Michele Leonhart] was — that she couldn't bring herself to simply state the obvious."

Indeed. Mr. Rosenberg, take note — the longer your department takes to refuse to state or acknowledge the obvious, the more danger and harm your inaction brings not only to heroin addicts struggling to get clean, but medical marijuana patients who simply want access to a drug that may be able to help them better manage their quality of life. Your statement is a good first step, but the DEA has a lot of work to do to evolve its policies alongside this country.