Editorial: Obama Should Dump DEA Nominee

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Michele Leonhart U.S. DEA Admimistrator
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings today on what is surely one of the most curious – almost inexplicable – Obama administration appointees. Michele Leonhart, a Bush administration holdover who has been acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration for the past two years, has been nominated to head the agency for the duration.

It is genuinely puzzling that President Barack Obama would nominate Ms. Leonhart, as she seems to be diametrically opposed to the administration's stated policies, especially on medical marijuana. The Department of Justice issued a memo in November 2009 stating that the federal government would not raid dispensaries in states with medical marijuana laws, so long as those facilities were complying with relevant state law. Since then, however, the DEA has conducted numerous raids in apparent violation of that policy.

Perhaps the worst instance came in July, after Mendocino County promulgated an ordinance regulating medical marijuana growing and invited local growers to register with the sheriff. The very first person to register, Joy Greenfield, 68, whose garden had been inspected and approved by the local sheriff, was almost immediately raided by the DEA. Informed that the local sheriff had approved the garden, the DEA agent in charge responded, "I don't care what the sheriff says."

Ms. Leonhart should be questioned about how the DEA plans to engage with local law enforcement in the growing number of states with valid medical marijuana laws. She should also be questioned about her relationship with Andrew Chambers, a longtime DEA informant branded a perjurer by federal appellate courts. And, questioned about allegations that she was involved with the firing of a whistle-blower who exposed a "house of death" used by the Juarez drug cartel to murder people.

The Obama administration has emphasized its disagreement with Bush-era policies on almost every front. Sticking with a Bush appointee at the DEA is profoundly puzzling. The president should rescind her appointment and seek someone more in line with the administration's stated policies.