Petition to Fire DEA Chief Gains Traction

Published on November 18, 2015 · Last updated July 28, 2020

Running the Drug Enforcement Administration is, admittedly, no easy task, and a position that seems to be rife with controversy. Michele Leonhart, the former Administrator of the DEA, resigned under dramatic circumstances after an inquiry into reports of a sex scandal involving DEA agents, cocaine, and so-called “sex parties” with Colombian prostitutes.

With a track record like that, one would think that the path for a new administrator would be fairly straightforward. Yet somehow, new appointee Chuck Rosenberg has been in the role for hardly six months and his gaffs have been seemingly unending. 

First there was this statement comparing marijuana to heroin that made us cringe:

"If you want me to say that marijuana's not dangerous, I'm not going to say that because I think it is. Do I think it's as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I'm not an expert."

Because why on Earth would we want an “expert” on drugs to be in charge of drug policy for the United States?

Rosenberg quickly backtracked on his statement and cleared up any misunderstanding by acknowledging publicly to the media that yes, “heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana.” This is particularly relevant as there has been a sharp increase in heroin-related deaths in the last decade, but not a single death attributed to cannabis use. Also, it's worth noting that states that have legalized medical marijuana have seen a 25 percent decrease in opiate-related deaths.

During an interview with Fox News, when asked about the possibility of rescheduling cannabis to allow for more comprehensive scientific research, Rosenberg's response was “Yeah, I don’t think so,” followed by a reiteration of how “dangerous” marijuana is and, in the same breath, denying any legitimate medical use for it.

The last straw for cannabis supporters was the most recent painfully infuriating statement in which Chuck Rosenberg calls medical marijuana “a joke.”

"What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal — because it's not. We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine — that is a joke… if you talk about smoking the leaf of marijuana — which is what people are talking about when they talk about medicinal marijuana — it has never been shown to be safe or effective as a medicine.”

Ignoring the fact that Rosenberg appears to believe that the leafy part of the plant is what you're supposed to smoke (someone needs to brush up on his cannabis anatomy), his latest comment rose the buzz of tens of thousands of seething medical marijuana patients to a deafening roar, and cannabis supporters took action. Marijuana Majority began a petition aptly and simply entitled “Fire DEA Head Chuck Rosenberg for Calling Medical Marijuana a ‘Joke'.’”

Needless to say, without any further prompting, the petition took off. Within a week, the petition had gained 5,000 signatures, including that of notable rock legend and cannabis advocate Melissa Etheridge, who encouraged fans to follow her lead.

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As of November 17, the petition was nearing 90,000 supporters and showed no sign of stopping. By comparison, a petition urging the Obama administration to fire Michele Leonhart gathered just 46,000 signatures before Leonhart resigned.  Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, made the apt observation at the Drug Policy Reform Conference this week that "It took Michele Leonhart several years to get a campaign against her.  It took [Rosenberg] only a few months."

The most recent report from the Drug Enforcement Agency clearly shows that America’s law enforcement officials consider cannabis to be a low priority, placing a much higher emphasis on reducing the rate of heroin use. So why doesn’t the DEA chief feel the same?

I’m no expert, but as a cannabis supporter, advocate, and medical marijuana patient, I feel strongly that the person in charge of American drug policy should, in fact, be an expert on all drugs and drug policy, including cannabis.

The continued missteps and misinformation from someone who is arguably the highest consultant on drug policy in the United States, someone who spreads his own perceived “dangers” of cannabis without any scientific proof, is a disservice to every medical marijuana patient and to everyone who believes in the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.


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Lisa Rough
Lisa Rough
Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.
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