“DEA Chief Rips Obama’s Pot Remarks” came the mellow harshing headline on the Weekly Standard website Monday. Full marks for honesty to the article’s author Michael Warren for admitting his magazine likely goaded Drug Enforcement Agency head Michele Leonhart into narcing on her boss.
During a closed meeting at a National Sheriffs Association powwow in DC, Leonhart took on President Barack Obama’s comments in a recently published New Yorker profile. Obama had said, “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid.” It was documented through Obama’s own biographical efforts and he used not just pot but cocaine, well past his “kid” years.
Obama said that he viewed pot smoking “as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” Answering a follow-up question, he admitted pot use might in fact be less dangerous “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”
The president spoke of the disproportionate impact of American drug laws on the poor and minorities. He said of the legalization efforts in Washington state and Colorado, “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”
That tore it. Former George W. Bush White House drug czar John Walters fumed in the Weekly Standard that Obama “is cutting the legs out from under every parent and schoolteacher and clergyman across the country who is trying to steer kids away from illegal drugs. Our ‘coolest president’ ever has made drug education into a punchline.”
This was dangerous stuff, threatening to undermine America’s national drug war apparatus. “Why,” he asked, “don’t the dedicated public servants at such places as the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Drug Enforcement Administration — those who know the truth, have dedicated their professional lives to protecting Americans from substance abuse, and even risk their lives daily — speak up?”
That challenge was likely looming over Leonhart as she spoke to the nation’s sheriffs this weekend. According to one attendee, Leonhart complained that Obama didn’t “understand the science” enough to declare pot a minor vice. She complained that the White House has taken part in a softball game with a pro-pot group and she admitted her “lowest point in 33 years in the DEA was when she learned they’d flown a hemp flag over the Capitol on July 4.”
The sheriffs cheered the drug enforcer’s candor, and the administration is taking it rather more seriously than casual pot usage. White House hands are working hard to prevent it from becoming the latest gateway criticism. On Monday, the Office of National Drug Control Policy published a blog post on whitehouse.gov against legalization. It was promptly taken down.
No explanation was given for the disappearance, because it’s impolitic to say that the president has decided to override his own bureaucracy and 40 years of anti-pot effort. But it seems pretty clear that is exactly what is happening. Expect the DEA’s Leonhart to either to come to terms with this new reality or seek employment elsewhere.
Jeremy Lott is the editor of Real Clear Religion and author of William F. Buckley (Thomas Nelson, 2010).