Let’s start with a debatable premise: marijuana should be legal, but hard drugs like heroin and meth should remain illegal. Reasonable people can and do disagree with this position, it is probably where a majority of Americans stand on drug policy. Is it possible to have a Drug Enforcement Agency that limits itself to combatting what most people consider to be the “dangerous” drugs?

This issue has been brought into focus because Michelle Leonhart, the administrator of the DEA, resigned this week. The DEA has not been having a good time lately, especially when it was revealed that DEA agents had been having sex parties sponsored by drug cartels in a brazen example of hypocrisy, corruption, and a dash of treason. Leonhart punished the agents caught in this scandal with 7-10 day suspensions and told Congress that she could not fire them. Congress did not believe her and gave her a lashing during hearings, and the White House refused to offer her its support, so Leonhart stepped down.

This is not the first time Leonhart has been in the public eye for negative reasons. She pointed at heartbreaking levels of violence in Mexico as indicating success in the war on drugs. She openly and insubordinately criticized President Obama for making objectively true statements about the safety of marijuana and alcohol. Last but not least, we have this fantastic video:

So, is our soon-to-be former DEA administrator incredibly clueless about the substances that her agency regulates, or is she the dishonest, immoral epitome of self-serving bureaucracy? Most definitely the latter.

We know exactly why someone like Michelle Leonhart would be willing to mislead Congress and be willing to cover up for agent misdeeds. The DEA exists because of the war on drugs. The more drugs that are illegal, the more funding the DEA can command, the more agents it can employ, and the broader its reach can be. The thing that is not always clear to those outside government is that executive agencies really are little fiefdoms, and their administrators often rum them with seemingly no other purpose than to increase the size, power, and legitimacy of their institutions. Leonhart’s comments and actions are indicative of the head of an agency interested in its self preservation above all else.

The DEA is a bit of an odd duck. It is a law enforcement agency like the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. It also licenses physicians to prescribe controlled substances, and it is responsible for approving requests by research institutions to study drugs. It even publishes its own propaganda. This all came to pass when Richard Nixon  created the DEA to unify federal (anti) drug policy in 1973. Based on the DEA’s sordid history, it does not seem like we will ever see much good come out of this agency. Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project has suggested either not replacing Leonhart or bringing on an administrator with a public health background to begin reforming the DEA into a public health and science oriented agency. The problem is that the DEA’s original mandate, though drafted by President Nixon, was approved by Congress. The smarter policy would be to disband the DEA, putting all drug research and licensing into the hands of the FDA, and giving drug law enforcement to the FBI. Maybe then the propaganda would stop, as those agencies have reasons to exist beyond the drug war.

  • painkills2

    It made sense to legalize and regulate alcohol, so we did that. It makes sense to do the same for cannabis, so we’re going to do that too. “Hard” drugs like heroin and meth are actually legally available in regulated formulations through Big Pharma, so why discriminate against them?

    Drugs are drugs, including caffeine, nicotine, and sugar. An end to the drug war includes legalizing and regulating all drugs, as these are medical issues, not criminal ones. Drug users end up being criminalized, including those who suffer from addiction, and everyone knows that’s not right. Imprisoning those who suffer from mental health issues isn’t right. How can anyone disagree with that?

    And giving the FDA more power is not the answer. The FDA brought us drugs like antidepressants and Vioxx. The agency removes drugs like Pallodone from the market, when methadone has the exact same problems:

    “high levels of palladone could slow or stop breathing, or cause coma or death; combining the drug with alcohol use could lead to rapid release of hydromorphone, in turn leading to potentially fatally high levels of drugs in the system”

    http://prescriptiondrugs.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=005528

    And because methadone is cheap, it’s prescribed to Medicaid patients, some of whom have died of overdoses. And then those deaths are blamed on “opioids,” and now there’s a war against chronic pain patients.

    The only answer is: No. More. Drug. War.

  • mlc

    Return the DEA to its original mission of patrolling our national borders and forest. Keep them out of our nation neighborhoods

    • ra232

      No just disband it. We have border patrol. We have a very good military we don’t need DEA.

  • Doug Marsh

    Disband them!!! There are far to many government agencies that do more harm than good. We don’t need the DEA to patrol our borders because we all ready have the US Border Patrol to do that. We already have the US Coast Guard to patrol our waterways. I mean, who do you think gives the DEA a ride when drugs are found on the sea? DISBAND THEM, DON’T LET ONE MORE PENNY OF OUR HARD EARNED TAX DOLLARS GO TO PAY FOR THIS UNNECESSARY AGENCY!!!!!!!!

    • Desert Scorpion

      I totally agree that the DEA is redundant, expensive and ineffective. Disband this useless agency and ease the tax burden on hard working Americans with real jobs.

  • Chronic Pain Patient

    This is Shameful and I cannot believe she is so stuck on old beliefs that doctors should not give pain medications to people now I know why she is promoting the black market because she is behind the black market!!!! Probably her family members in Columbia
    How embarrassing for us Americans. We should Dismantle the DEA we don’t need anymore corruption we already have enough corruption. We have Federal Agencies that do this. I bet when they make the next drug bust the people behind the bust will be DEA agents.
    Doctors should read these posts and see who is really behind this Opiate Bill. Hurt us innocent people for your ignorance, and being uneducated like she was she really could not even a simple question. Nor could she have a educated conversation. We need to stop promoting the corruption and allowing them drive those fancy cars and access to all the expensive luxuries for nothing. Obama has done his job some make not like him but dam I have seen more corruption come out since he was president that I have seen in a long time. So yes people he has done his job and he is not scared to bust them. What goes around comes around all good things come to an end. So now they need to investigate all the DEA fake accounts offshore and see who has all the money stored away because that will all come out too.
    STOP GIVING THEM POWER TO BE CROOKED! Really they have done enough damage to this country. Even the cartel know we just need to flash money in front of the eyes of Americans, and we can BUY them. Nothing but wasted TAX Dollars on a agency that has done more harm than good…

    • hillian P

      I’m a chronic pain patient myself. The suffering being inflicted on our community is taking a huge toll presently. Hoping the pendulum will begin to swing back to common sense and sanity. These new guidelines are driving law abiding citizens to seek relief from the streets, or worse, commit suicide.

      • thomase

        Don’t be afraid to speak out! Talk to your dr about it.

  • ra232

    Why does America approach every problem as a “war”. If you got a heroin problem you don’t go with guns blazing do you? We are a nation of warmonger politicians. Most people have brains and realize you don’t shoot heroin to death. You educate and treat. But in our Rambo nation we just want to send the guns and bomb them to the stone age. It is pathetic that a nation able to put people on the moon still thinks that we can bomb drugs. If you oppose drugs then educate and treat. Or legalize and repsect the rights of users.