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Michelle Leonhart

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 10, 2011

    The Israeli government this week formally acknowledged the therapeutic utility of cannabis and announced newly amended guidelines governing the state-sponsored production and distribution of medical cannabis to Israeli patients.

    A prepared statement posted Monday on the website of office of the Israeli Prime Minister stated: “The Cabinet today approved arrangements and supervision regarding the supply of cannabis for medical and research uses. This is in recognition that the medical use of cannabis is necessary in certain cases. The Health Ministry will – in coordination with the Israel Police and the Israel Anti-Drug Authority – oversee the foregoing and will also be responsible for supplies from imports and local cultivation.”

    According to Israeli news reports, approximately 6,000 Israeli patients are supplied with locally grown cannabis as part of a limited government program. This week’s announcement indicates that government officials intend to expand the program to more patients and centralize the drug’s cultivation. “[T]here are predictions that doctor and patient satisfaction is so high that the number could reach 40,000 in 2016,” The Jerusalem Post reported.

    The Israeli Ministry of Health is expected to oversee the production of marijuana in January 2012.

    Similar government-sponsored medical marijuana programs are also active in Canada and the Netherlands.

    By contrast, in July the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) formally denied a nine-year-old petition calling on the agency to initiate hearings to reassess the present classification of marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance, stating in the July 8, 2011 edition of the Federal Register that cannabis has “a high potential for abuse; … no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; … [and] lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 23, 2011

    A coalition of public interest advocacy groups filed suit today in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to compel the Obama administration to respond to a nine-year-old petition to reclassify marijuana under federal law.

    The suit was filed by attorneys Joe Elford of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and Michael Kennedy of the NORML Legal Committee on behalf of the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC). The Coalition, which includes NORML and California NORML, filed a comprehensive rescheduling petition with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on October 9, 2002 challenging marijuana’s Schedule I classification as a controlled substance with “no currently accepted medical use” and a “high potential for abuse.” The agency formally accepted the petition for filing on April 3, 2003, and per the provisions of the United States Controlled Substances Act (CSA) referred the petition to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in July 2004 for a full scientific and medical evaluation.

    To date, the federal government has not publicly responded to the petition.

    Today’s lawsuit petitions the Court for a writ of mandamus “directing the DEA and the Attorney General to issue a full and final determination on petitioners’ Petition to reschedule marijuana, or, alternatively, state whether it will initiate rulemaking proceedings, within 60 days.”

    It states: “The DEA’s delay here of more than eight years since the rescheduling Petition was filed — and more than four years since it received HHS’ binding evaluation and recommendations — is inexcusable. … [T]his agency delay in acting on the rescheduling Petition is unreasonable, requiring this Court to intervene.”

    Under the CSA, the Attorney General has the authority to reschedule a drug if he finds that it does not meet the criteria for the schedule to which it has been assigned. The Attorney General has delegated this authority to the Administrator of the DEA, presently Michelle Leonhart.

    The 2002 CRC petition seeks to reschedule cannabis from its Schedule I designation to a less restrictive class under the CSA “on the grounds that: (1) marijuana does have accepted medical uses in the United States; (2) it is safe for use under medical supervision and has an abuse potential lower than Schedule I and II drugs; and (3) it has a dependence liability that is also lower than Schedule I or II drugs.”

    NORML filed a similar rescheduling petition with the DEA in 1972, but was not granted a federal hearing on the issue until 1986. In 1988, DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young ruled that marijuana did not meet the legal criteria of a Schedule I prohibited drug and should be reclassified. Then-DEA Administrator John Lawn rejected Young’s determination, a decision the D.C. Court of Appeals eventually affirmed in 1994.

    A subsequent petition was filed by former NORML Director in 1995, but was rejected by the DEA in 2001.

    Additional information on this suit will appear in this week’s NORML news update. To receive these e-mail updates free, please sign up here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 4, 2011

    [Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from this week’s forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML’s media advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up for NORML’s free e-zine here.]

    The U.S. Senate has confirmed Michelle Leonhart by unanimous consent to head the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Miss Leonhart had served as interim director of the agency since November 2007. President Barack Obama had nominated Leonhart in February to serve as the agency’s director.

    Numerous drug policy reform organizations, including NORML, had opposed Leonhart’s confirmation – arguing that her actions as interim DEA administrator were contrary to the Obama administration’s pledge to allow science, rather than rhetoric and ideology, guide public policy.

    For example, Ms. Leonhart oversaw dozens of federal raids on medical marijuana providers and producers. These actions took place in states that have enacted laws allowing for the use and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes, and are inconsistent with an October 19, 2009 Department of Justice memo recommending federal officials no longer “focus … resources … on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

    Miss Leonhart also blocked scientific research that sought to better identify and quantify marijuana’s medicinal properties and efficacy. In particular, Ms. Leonhart neglected to reply to an eight-year-old petition calling for administrative hearings regarding the rescheduling marijuana for medical use. Such hearings were called for in 2009 by the American Medical Association, which resolved “that marijuana’s status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines.” Moreover, in January 2009, Ms. Leonhart refused to issue a license to the University of Massachusetts for the purpose of cultivating marijuana for FDA-approved research, despite a DEA administrative law judge’s ruling that it would be “in the public interest” to grant this request.

    Finally, Ms. Leonhart has exhibited questionable judgment when speaking about the subject of escalating drug war violence in Mexico. In 2009, she described this border violence — which is responsible for over 31,000 deaths since December 2006 — as a sign of the “success” of her agency’s anti-drug strategies.

    Commenting on Ms. Leonhart’s confirmation, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “Ms. Leonhart’s actions and ambitions are incompatible with state law, public opinion, and with the policies of this administration. It is unlikely that we will see any serious change in direction of the DEA under Ms. Leonhart’s leadership.”

    In December, Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl had placed a hold on Ms. Leonhart’s nomination. Senator Kohl dropped his hold on December 22, and the Senate unanimously confirmed Leonhart’s nomination the following day.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 29, 2010

    Just in case this recent CNN headline — “Government: More than 22,000 dead in Mexico drug war” — didn’t make this point crystal clear, we now have a scientific study published by the good folks at International Centre for Science in Drug Policy to drive home the painfully obvious.

    Study links drug enforcement to more violence
    via The Associated Press

    The surge of gunbattles, beheadings and kidnappings that has accompanied Mexico’s war on drug cartels is an entirely predictable escalation in violence based on decades of scientific literature, a new study contends.

    A systematic review published Tuesday of more than 300 international studies dating back 20 years found that when police crack down on drug users and dealers, the result is almost always an increase in violence, say researchers at the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, a nonprofit group based in Britain and Canada.

    In 87 percent of the studies reviewed, intensifying drug law enforcement resulted in increased rates of drug market violence. Some of the studies included in the report said violence increases because power vacuums are created when police kill or arrest top drug traffickers. None showed a significant decrease in violence.

    Predictably, Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske — like all prohibitionists — would rather stick his head in the sand than acknowledge the obvious.

    When asked whether he believes that legalizing and regulating marijuana — the crop that, according to his own office, provides Mexican drug lords with over 60% of their present profits — would in any way stave this ongoing violence, he responded: “I don’t know of any reason that legalizing something that essentially is bad for you would make it better, from a fiscal standpoint or a public health standpoint or a public safety standpoint.”

    Really? So does the Drug Czar favor outlawing alcohol, tobacco, red meat, trans-fats, soda, corn syrup, junk food, caffeine, sugar, and any one of thousands of other products and activities that are “essentially bad for you” too?

    And what about those 20,000+ dead since 2006 — many as a direct result of the United State’s prohibitionists policies? The Drug Czar doesn’t believe that staving such violence isn’t benefiting the public’s health? (Answer: You can’t make someone understand when it is in their job description not to.)

    Sickeningly, ex-Drug Czar John Walters does Gil K. even one better — reiterating the notion (previously expressed by pending DEA head Michelle Leonheart) that the soaring violence and death south of the border is a sign that U.S. marijuana prohibition is working!

    According to the AP: “The former drug czar, John Walters, said the researchers gravely misinterpret drug violence. He said spikes of attacks and killings after law enforcement crackdowns are almost entirely between criminals, and therefore may, in a horrible, paradoxical way, reflect success. ‘They’re shooting each other, and the reason they’re doing that is because they’re getting weaker,’ he said.”

    Yes, you read that right. In John Walters’ deluded mind, murder victims Lesley Enriquez, — who worked at the U.S. Consulate and was four months pregnant — and her husband must have been ‘criminals,’ and the rising death toll on the U.S./Mexico border is obviously a human billboard of our success!

    It’s now apparent that only a fool — or someone who is paid to act like one — would fail to see that it is time to remove the production and distribution of marijuana out of the hands of violent criminal enterprises and into the hands of licensed businesses. Of course, the only way to do that is through legalization — yet this is a policy that, tragically, remains devoid from the Drug Czar’s, and the President’s, vocabulary.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 17, 2010

    UPDATE!!! UPDATE!!! Want to make sure that your members of Congress get the message that the U.S. drug war fuels Mexican violence? Then check out my commentary today in The Hill — Congress’ insider newspaper and website. Read my commentary here, and please leave feedback on their board. Your members of Congress will see it, I promise.

    It was less than one year ago when acting U.S. DEA administrator Michelle Leonhart publicly declared that the escalating violence on the U.S./Mexico border should be viewed as a sign of the “success” of America’s drug war strategies.

    Our view is that the violence we have been seeing is a signpost of the success our very courageous Mexican counterparts are having,” said Michele Leonhart, who was recently nominated by President Obama to be the agency’s full time director. “The cartels are acting out like caged animals, because they are caged animals.”

    Well, if the DEA’s chief talking head thought that some 6,300 drug cartel-related murders in 2008 was an indication of progress, one can only imagine that she believes that this weekend’s south-of-the-border killing spree — which included the murder of a pregnant U.S. official and members of her family — must be downright victorious.

    To rest of us, however, these acts are nothing short of a senseless tragedy — a tragedy made all that much more heart-wrenching because it is U.S. policy that is helping to fuel this violence.

    As I wrote last year in the commentary, “How to End Mexico’s Deadly Drug War”:

    Wire-service reports estimate that Mexico’s drug lords employ over 100,000 soldiers — approximately as many as the Mexican army — and that the cartels’ wealth, intimidation, and influence extend to the highest echelons of law enforcement and government. Where do the cartels get their unprecedented wealth and power? By trafficking in illicit drugs — primarily marijuana — over the border into the United States.

    The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy …  says that more than 60 percent of the profits reaped by Mexican drug lords are derived from the exportation and sale of cannabis to the American market. … (By comparison, only about 28 percent of their profits are derived from the distribution of cocaine, and less than 1 percent comes from trafficking methamphetamine.) … Government officials estimate that approximately half the marijuana consumed in the United States originates from outside its borders, and they have identified Mexico as far and away America’s largest pot provider.

    If the Obama administration wishes to once and for all reduce this unprecedented wave of Mexican drug-gang violence, then it needs to remove the drug lord’s primary source of income — and that’s marijuana trafficking.

    Despite 70+ years of criminal prohibition in the United States (and countless billions of dollars spent attempting to interdict marijuana at our southern border), America remains the primary destination for Mexican pot. Why? Because like it or not, Americans consume cannabis; in fact, Americans lead the world in their consumption of pot.

    According to a 2007 economic assessment, U.S. citizens spend $113 billion dollars annually to consume an estimated 31.1 million pounds of pot. According to the federal government, over 100 million Americans have used marijuana; over one in ten Americans do so regularly. In short, criminal marijuana prohibition does not, and will not, reduce demand. So then it’s time to regulate the supply.

    It is time to remove the production and distribution of marijuana out of the hands of violent criminal enterprises and into the hands of licensed businesses, and the only way to do that is through legalization.

    Or, I suppose, we could just keep on doing what we’ve been doing.

    On Monday I joined Judge Andrew Napolitano on FoxNews.com to discuss how marijuana legalization — not increasing levels of government prohibition — would quell the violence surrounding the trafficking of Mexican marijuana. You can watch the video here.

    The Judge ‘gets it;’ let’s hope that the administration will one day ‘get it’ too.