U.S.: New DEA Leader Admits Marijuana 'Probably' Not As Bad As Heroin
Head of the Drug Enforcement Administration Says 'I'm Not An Expert'
By Steve Elliott
It's progress -- of a sort.
The new head of the Drug Enforcement Administration admitted on Tuesday that heroin "probably" is more dangerous than marijuana, an admission his predecessor, the embattled Michele Leonhart, would not make, reports Steven Nelson at U.S. News.
Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said federal DEA agents aren't prioritizing marijuana enforcement, but he's not ordered them off it.
"If you want me to say that marijuana's not dangerous, I'm not going to say that because I think it is," Rosenberg claimed. "Do I think it's as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I'm not an expert."
"Let me say it this way," he added. "I'd rather be in a car accident going 30 miles an hour than 60 miles an hour, but I'd prefer not to be in an accident at all."
Rosenberg's predecessor, Leonhart, claimed comparisons of marijuana to crack cocaine or heroin would be "subjective" and claimed cannabis is an "insidious" drug.
"This is not a matter of opinion," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "It's far less harmful than heroin and it's encouraging that the DEA is finally willing to recognize that."
Riffle pointed out that thousands of overdose deaths result from heroin every year, compared to none for marijuana, which is also far less likely to result in dependence.
"That's a great improvement over the previous administrator who was incapable of distinguishing heroin from marijuana," said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), we had a well-known tense exchange on that subject with Leonhart last year. "The real question that one day will be asked and correctly answered is: Is marijuana a more dangerous drug than alcohol?"
Leonhart resigned in May in the wake of a scandal involving DEA agents throwing sex parties with prostitutes in Colombia. She chastised President Barack Obama last year for saying marijuana is safer than alcohol, and scolded White House staffers for playing softball matches against drug policy reformers.
Rosenberg said he asked DEA agents across the country "to focus their efforts and the resources of the DEA on the most important cases in their jurisdictions, and by and large what they are telling me is that the most important cases in their jurisdictions are opioids and heroin. Typically it's heroin, opioids, meth and cocaine in roughly that order and marijuana tends to come in at the back of the pack."
But Rosenberg, a consummate bureaucrat, left himself a loophole. "I've also told them we are not going to shy away from doing marijuana cases where appropriate," Rosenberg added. "We want to do the biggest and most important cases there are."
"If it's marijuana, that's illegal under federal law and I've told them not to shy from that," Rosenberg said. "More to come on that," he added ominously.
A study last month found states that allow medical marijuana dispensaries have fewer opioid overdose deaths.
Photo of Chuck Rosenberg: Kamenko Pajic/UPI