Does Marijuana Stand a Chance With New DEA Chief?

Pot is gaining acceptance legally and across society, but don't expect the Drug Enforcement Administration to change when President Donald Trump announces his choice to run the agency, experts say. The government arm that runs the war on drugs has never been hip to hemp, but experts say a new DEA head won't come in and change pot policy.

In fact, experts say the Trump administration's stance on issues like drug arrests, legalization of marijuana and even the notorious wall along the Mexican border will steer things even further away from acceptance of the drug, even though 86 percent of Americans believe the plant should be legalized in some capacity, according to a recent poll.

It still isn't clear who will replace Chuck Rosenberg, who was appointed to head the DEA in 2015 by President Barack Obama. His resignation comes two months after he pushed back on Trump's comment that law enforcement officers were "too nice" when handling suspects professionally.

A leading pick to replace Rosenberg, New Jersey State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes, declined to comment. The White House also did not call back with a comment.

Many hope the change could serve as a blank slate for the agency and a chance to pick the right battles in the war on drugs, like focusing on the deadly opioid epidemic, which has skyrocketed in recent years and left more than 52,000 dead in 2015. 

Despite the troubling statistics, law enforcement has continued to target pot consumers, even though more and more states are moving toward legalization. Nearly 30 states allow the drug for medical use, and eight have legalized it recreationally.

The FBI released data this week that showed an increase in the number of people arrested last year on a marijuana possession charge. Nearly 600,000 were charged, and experts say this cost taxpayers billions of dollars as offenders made their way through the criminal justice system.

"I hope that whoever is next will deal with the reality that a lot of states have legalized [marijuana] and it's not a good use of resources for police to be arresting these people and ruining lives," said Bill Piper, a senior director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "These are proven failed ways to approach this issue."

Under Rosenberg, more than two dozen applications to simply research the plant have been blocked, a policy that is unlikely to change, said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposes marijuana legalization, even for medicinal purposes, and has called the plant "only slightly less awful" than heroin.

Trump says his plans for a wall on the Mexican border, and keeping out immigrants who cross illegally, will eliminate a large amount of the drugs that move across the border from Mexico. Experts say that's true but it will also lead to drug dealers and cartels looking at other means to make profits in a more dangerous way.

Dealers will be forced to sneak smaller drug shipments across the border and to add the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is cheaper but deadly, to make a profit, said Tree. 

All in all, if Rosenberg's replacement does try to enact new policies or steer the department toward change, it could be difficult. "I'm not optimistic at all," Tree said. "Not during this administration."

Join the Discussion