Tuesday afternoon, the Washington Post broke an article that acting Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief Chuck Rosenberg plans to resign within a week. Rosenberg is an Obama administration holdover going back to 2015, so the news was not totally unexpected. President Trump will be tasked with selecting a successor, which will lead to a confirmation hearing process, which will lead to yet another public referendum over U.S. law and policy regarding cannabis and other controlled substances. Such a referendum occurred most recently during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing, and had begun to ramp up again with Trump’s recent nomination of Terrible Tom Marino to the post of National Drug Control Policy Director (a.k.a., the “Drug Czar”).
The DEA Administrator and the Drug Czar are both important government posts, with the DEA Administrator wielding considerably more power. The DEA Administrator is head of the chief U.S. agency for Controlled Substances Act enforcement, whereas the Drug Czar coordinates anti-drug propaganda and advises the President. The DEA is also seated within the Department of Justice (DOJ), directly downline from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Trump can, and probably will, appoint someone with retrograde views on marijuana to fill Rosenberg’s vacant seat. It would be a surprise if he did not. That said, cannabis supporters should not be sad to see Rosenberg go, as his views on cannabis were none too enlightened. As Rosenberg packs up his office, here are a few of his greatest hits and misses:
- May 2015. President Obama taps Rosenberg, a former FBI official, to lead DEA. This happened because DEA agents were participating in sex parties with prostitutes supplied by drug cartels in Colombia. Rosenberg was expected to focus less on marijuana than his predecessors. Cannabis boosters cheered.
- November 2015. Rosenberg called medical marijuana “a joke.” Cannabis boosters collected 160,000 signatures demanding his resignation, and high-ranking officials called for his head, but Rosenberg survived.
- December 2015. Rosenberg opined that marijuana is “probably not” as dangerous as heroin. This was an outlandish statement, but one that his predecessor refused to concede. A few days later Rosenberg caved to public ridicule, telling reporters that “heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana.” Cannabis boosters cheered, a bit.
- December 2016. DEA issued a final administrative rule, establishing a controlled substances code for “marijuana extract.” That rule maintained marijuana, hemp and their derivatives as Schedule I substances. Cannabis boosters booed. And sued.
- August 2016. DEA pledged to make it easier for private companies to grow and obtain marijuana for study. This was welcome news at the time, although nothing much has happened over the past 13 months, apparently due to DOJ stonewalling. But on August 11, 2016, at least, cannabis boosters cheered.
- August 2016. DEA teamed up with a few other agencies to author the Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp, which construed the 2014 Farm Bill to permit cultivation for “industrial purposes (fiber and seed)” and not to authorize sales “for the purpose of general commercial activity.” Cannabis boosters booed.
- August 2017. Rosenberg instructed DEA agents to disregard President Trump’s call to be rougher with suspects, including those suspected of drug crimes. Cannabis boosters cheered.
The record shows Rosenberg was no friend of cannabis. Still, given the posture of recent Trump appointees regarding the plant, we may wish him back one day. Industry advocates should watch the pending developments closely. Aside from Jeff Sessions, Trump’s next DEA appointee could have more impact on the cannabis industry than anyone in the current administration.
We should know more very soon.