DEA Head Warns of Cannabis Legalization Risks


Ryan Allway

May 6th, 2014

Policy, Top News


DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week warning of the dangers of cannabis legalization and reiterating her support for mandatory minimum sentences.

The comments come despite President Obama’s increasingly liberal stance on the issue of cannabis legalization. In September of last year, the Obama Administration made it clear that it would be interfere with legalized cannabis in states that have approved it unless eight listed enforcement priorities were violated, including things like the sale of cannabis to children or involvement of criminal organizations.

In her testimony, Ms. Leonhart expressed concerns over the increase in marijuana trafficking in states adjacent to Colorado. She believes that these same dynamics could appear in Washington State after its recreational legalization goes into effect and could lead to increased usage. In addition, she reiterated support for mandatory sentences to “ensure the right sentences equate the right level of violator”.

Advocates for legalization believe that these arguments are flawed for a number of different reasons. Marijuana usage among adults had been on the rise prior to legalization, suggesting that the rise after legalization isn’t necessary causational. At the same time, marijuana legalization has improved state tax revenues, may have reduced some types of violent crime, and usually doesn’t pose any medical danger.

Ms. Leonhart was originally appointed during the Bush Administration and her fit within the Obama Administration appears to be stressed. However, many others in the DEA feel the same way, including Chief of Operations James Capra who recently called legalization reckless and irresponsible. Mr. Capra warned that “every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again.”

Again, legalization advocates point to the fact that true marijuana legalization has only been tried in select U.S. states and, recently, Uruguay. In places like the Netherlands, authorities have turned a blind eye to cannabis consumption and society appears to be running smoothly. In fact, marijuana consumption rates haven’t risen significantly, as Ms. Leonhart’s testimony would imply.

In the end, cannabis legalization remains an imperfect experiment in states like Colorado and Washington. While those in the DEA oppose it, the public appears to be supportive and other regulatory agencies have taken liberal views.

Ryan Allway

About Ryan Allway

Mr. Allway has over a decade of experience in the financial markets as both a private investor and financial journalist. He has been actively involved in the cannabis industry since its inception, covering public and private companies.


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