DEA “No Expert” but Marijuana Probably “Not as Dangerous” as Heroin

The new head of the DEA said on Tuesday that marijuana is “probably not” as dangerous as heroin, the use of which appears to be rising across the country. His position appears to be different from that of his predecessor Michele Leonhart, who compared the two substances, saying pot is an “insidious” drug.

“If you want me to say that marijuana’s not dangerous, I’m not going to say that because I think it is,” acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said. “Do I think it’s as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I’m not an expert.”


Marijuana and heroin both Schedule I substances

Both pot and heroin are currently classified by the DEA as Schedule I substances, the “most dangerous” of all drugs with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” The classification is in contrast with the stance of the four states allowing the drug for recreational use and many others for medical purposes.

“This is not a matter of opinion,” Dan Riffle, director of federal policies at the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, told US News. “It’s far less harmful than heroin and it’s encouraging that the DEA is finally willing to recognize that.”

Much smoke, no fire

DEADespite its cautious nature, Rosenberg a former prosecutor whose stance on drug reform is still “somewhat of a mystery”, also said his agents will spend less time on marijuana enforcement — though he’s not ordered them off it, and whether he’ll reclassify the drug as less dangerous is another matter.

With Rosenberg taking the helm of DEA, can we expect any shakeup in drug policy? A recent article by The Daily Beast summarized the dilemma pretty accurately; when it comes to law enforcement “actions speak louder than words”. An example is Eric Holder’s statement, claiming that the Department of Justice, the DEA’s parent organization, would leave state law-abiding medical marijuana dispensaries alone. Yet raids continued.

Phil Smith, editor of the Drug War Chronicle and a longtime drug policy observer, basically told The Daily Beast that replacing the king doesn’t mean revolutionizing the kingdom. It’s going to be interesting to see how “aggressive” Rosenberg will be about reforming the agency, he said.

Who is Rosenberg?

Rosenberg, who has a long résumé with the Department of Justice, serving as U.S. attorney in Virginia and Texas, has extensive experience in drug prosecution and immigrant prosecution.

The Drug Policy Alliance, which placed a mock job advertisement for a new DEA leader saying that they would prefer to hire someone “with no scientific background” whose duties will involve blocking “marijuana research at every turn”, put out a statement expressing cautious optimism about Rosenberg.

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., a dogged critic of DEA’s previous chief, told US News about Rosenberg, “I don’t know enough to give him a ‘yippee ki-yay,’ but he certainly has unlimited possibilities of surpassing his predecessor.”

The administrator of the DEA has the power to shape enforcement actions, and also can play a significant role in the scheduling of drugs. But if this materializes in the future is yet to be seen.

What do you think of DEA’s position on marijuana? Share your views in the comments section below.

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