Article first published as DEA Promises Enforcement of Marijuana Laws, Will Fight Legalization on Technorati with author Tim Paynter.
Acting Director of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Michele Leonhart promised to oppose legalization of Medical Marijuana (MMJ) and step up enforcement in states where MMJ has been made legal under state laws, if she were made Director of the DEA.
The Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Leonhart about MMJ laws.
“I’m a big fan of the DEA,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Then he asked Leonhart if she would fight the legalization of MMJ.
“I have seen what marijuana use has done to young people, I have seen the abuse, I have seen what it’s done to families. It’s bad,” Leonhart said. “If confirmed as administrator, we would continue to enforce the federal drug laws.”
“These legalization efforts sound good to people,” Sessions quipped. “They say, ‘We could just end the problem of drugs if we could just make it legal.’ But any country that’s tried that, Alaska and other places have tried it, have failed. It does not work,” Sessions said.
Then Sessions asked point blank: “We need people who are willing to say that. Are you willing to say that?”
“Yes, I’ve said that, senator. You’re absolutely correct, the social costs from drug abuse, especially from marijuana,” Leonhart agreed “Legalizers say it will help the Mexican cartel situation; it won’t. It will allow states to balance budgets; it won’t. No one is looking (at) the social costs of legalizing drugs.”
Democratic Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin grilled Leonhart about her position on changes in regulations for the administration of prescription drugs in nursing homes which were handed down during the Bush Administration. The new regulations are complicated and time consuming to comply with.
"The time that it takes for a nursing home to comply with the DEA’s new enforcement policy can be an eternity to an elderly patient who is in agonizing pain.” Stated Kohl.
This is not the first time Acting Director Leonhart has heard complaints about the complicated regulatory scheme. Kohl met with Leonhart in early May of 2010 after she promised a swift resolution to the problem.
“You told me you also would address the problem swiftly,” Kohl said. “In August, I requested joint comments from DEA and DHHS on draft legislation that I prepared and submitted to you to facilitate more timely access to pain medication for ailing nursing home residents. I received no response. It appears the DEA is putting paperwork before pain relief,” Kohl said.
“We don’t take lightly our responsibility to not only prevent aversion and do our regulatory business” Leonhart replied. “But we’re very concerned about those patients in need. That’s why in the interim, while we’re finding long-term solutions, we’ve come up with a few short-term solutions and policy statements. We need to do more.”
The DEA has been criticized for paying lip service to Congressional requests to solve the problem. Leonhart’s assurances of “slow progress” were not encouraging. She rose in the ranks of the DEA through the Bush Administration which encouraged heightened scrutiny of drug administration in nursing homes.
“I would like to see much more progress made on this issue before you are confirmed,” Kohl’s said curtly.
Overall, Leonhart appeared to have made a favorable impression on the Committee. If she keeps her promise she could put significant pressure on states that have legalized MMJ clinics and perhaps challenge state laws allowing MMJ in contravention to federal drug possession laws. Meanwhile, until the DEA makes changes in the administration of medications in nursing homes, patients may suffer eternal pain.
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