DEA Chief Says Marijuana-Trafficking Spiking

May 3, 2014

The Drug Enforce­ment Admin­is­tra­tion is con­cerned about a surge in the ille­gal ship­ment of mar­i­juana from Col­orado since the state legal­ized the drug, and is try­ing to crack down on minors’ use of the sub­stance, the head of the agency said Wednes­day. Admin­is­tra­tor Michele Leon­hart said the DEA is trou­bled by the increase in mar­i­juana traf­fick­ing in states sur­round­ing Col­orado and wor­ries that the same phe­nom­e­non could be repeated around Wash­ing­ton state, where recre­ational mar­i­juana is expected to be sold legally soon. In Kansas, she said, there has been a 61 per­cent increase in seizures of mar­i­juana from Col­orado. Speak­ing to the Sen­ate Judi­ciary Com­mit­tee, Leon­hart said the soft­en­ing of atti­tudes nation­wide about the risk of mar­i­juana has con­firmed some of the agency’s fears. “The trends are what us in law enforce­ment had expected would hap­pen,” she said. “In 2012, 438,000 Amer­i­cans were addicted to heroin. And 10 times that num­ber were depen­dent on mar­i­juana.” The Obama admin­is­tra­tion released a memo in August say­ing it would not chal­lenge legal­iza­tion laws in Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton as long as the two states main­tained strict rules regard­ing the sale and dis­tri­b­u­tion of the drug. In the memo, Deputy Attor­ney Gen­eral James M. Cole stressed that mar­i­juana remains ille­gal under fed­eral law. The Jus­tice Depart­ment directed fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors not to tar­get indi­vid­ual users but instead to focus on eight areas of enforce­ment. Those aims include pre­vent­ing the dis­tri­b­u­tion of mar­i­juana to minors, stop­ping the drug from being grown on pub­lic land, keep­ing mar­i­juana from falling into the hands of car­tels and gangs, and pre­vent­ing the diver­sion of the drug to states where it remains ille­gal. DEA offi­cials have expressed frus­tra­tion pri­vately about the legal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana by Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton state, where local offi­cials con­sider the change an oppor­tu­nity to gen­er­ate tax rev­enue and boost tourism. But in Jan­u­ary, James. L. Capra, the DEA’s chief of oper­a­tions, called mar­i­juana legal­iza­tion at the state level “reck­less and irre­spon­si­ble,” and warned that the decrim­i­nal­iza­tion move­ment would have dire con­se­quences. “It scares us,” he said dur­ing a Sen­ate hear­ing. “Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again.” Two years ago, nine for­mer DEA admin­is­tra­tors wrote a let­ter to Attor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr. to express their con­cern about the states’ move­ments to legal­ize mar­i­juana and urge him to oppose the bal­lot ini­tia­tives. “To con­tinue to remain silent con­veys to the Amer­i­can pub­lic and the global com­mu­nity a tacit accep­tance of these dan­ger­ous ini­tia­tives,” wrote the for­mer admin­is­tra­tors, who over­saw the DEA under Demo­c­ra­tic and Repub­li­can pres­i­dents from 1973 to 2007. On Wednes­day, Leon­hart spoke about why she thinks mar­i­juana is dan­ger­ous. She said that marijuana-related emergency-room vis­its increased by 28 per­cent between 2007 and 2011 and that one in 15 high school seniors is a near-daily mar­i­juana user. Since 2009, she said, more high school seniors have been smok­ing pot than smok­ing cig­a­rettes. Mar­i­juana advo­cates say that con­cerns about the drug’s dan­ger are exag­ger­ated. In an inter­view with the New Yorker mag­a­zine, Pres­i­dent Obama com­pared the use of mar­i­juana to drink­ing alco­hol. “As has been well doc­u­mented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice not very dif­fer­ent from the cig­a­rettes that I smoked as a young per­son up through a big chunk of my adult life,” he said. “I don’t think it is more dan­ger­ous than alco­hol.” Leon­hart also spoke out in sup­port of manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tenc­ing for drug crimes, an issue Holder has high­lighted recently as part of his ini­tia­tive to reduce prison crowd­ing and fos­ter equity in crim­i­nal sen­tenc­ing. Holder has instructed his 93 U.S. attor­neys to use their dis­cre­tion in charg­ing low-level, non­vi­o­lent crim­i­nals with offenses that impose severe manda­tory sen­tences. Leon­hart, in response to a ques­tion from Sen. Charles E. Grass­ley (R-Iowa), said: “Hav­ing been in law enforce­ment as an agent for 33 years [and] a Bal­ti­more City police offi­cer before that, I can tell you that for me and for the agents that work at the DEA, manda­tory min­i­mums have been very impor­tant to our inves­ti­ga­tions. We depend on those as a way to ensure that the right sen­tences equate the level of vio­la­tor we are going after.” Source: Wash­ing­ton Post (DC) Author: Sari Hor­witz Pub­lished: April 30, 2014 Copy­right: 2014 Wash­ing­ton Post Com­pany Con­tact: letters@​washpost.​com Web­site: http://​www​.wash​ing​ton​post​.com/

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