One can debate the merits of statements made by various public officials all day, but it really boils down to this. Until it is the official policy of the U.S. Government that marijuana is no longer classified as a Schedule 1 drug, Michele Leonhart, Director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, should not be fired for doing her job as the nation’s top drug enforcement officer. She will certainly not be fired and was very likely, even in her official capacity as DEA director, within her rights for criticizing the President’s remarks on marijuana use. But this needs to be put into perspective. The President made a comment expressing his views on the health risks associated with marijuana when compared to the health risks associated with consumption of alcohol. Fine. But he was not, as much as advocates for legalization would like to interpret his statements as such, setting official policy. It would be wonderful if everything the President said was official policy. But it isn’t. It may set the tone of a particular debate, such as it was when he expressed his views on gay marriage. But if everything President Obama said as a general comment or viewpoint became official policy, then there would be no debate on issues such as gay marriage, or income inequality, voting rights, healthcare, climate change, women’s reproductive rights, and yes, the legalization of marijuana among other things. It would also make us a dictatorship which nobody should want either.
A recent Huffington Post article notes that the Marijuana Policy Project issued a statement in regard to the comments made recently by Director Leonhart which said: “The DEA administrator’s continued refusal to recognize marijuana’s relative safety compared to alcohol and other drugs flies in the face of the president’s commitment to prioritizing science over ideology and politics…She is neglecting the basic obligations of her job and fundamentally undermining her employer’s mission. This would be grounds for termination in the private sector, and the consequences for Ms. Leonhart should be no different.”
This statement is laughable on its face.
First, the DEA director is not “neglecting the basic obligations of her job”. She is a federal law enforcement officer charged with (surprise) enforcing federal drug laws. Until federal drug policies change, it is not her responsibility or option to refuse to enforce said laws because of marijuana’s “relative safety compared to alcohol and other drugs”. To use this argument is akin to saying the NTSB should not enforce any laws regarding air travel because of its “relative safety” compared to driving an automobile. Also, it should be noted that this is not a private sector job and it is patently ridiculous to compare being the director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency with a job at a private company. In the private sector, you are terminated from your job when you aren’t making money for the corporation. The federal government apparently long ago accepted the calculus that enforcement of marijuana prohibitions would be an unprofitable enterprise yet continue to pursue this agenda without any signs of abatement.
As to her “employer’s mission” of “prioritizing science over ideology and politics”, I would point to the termination of NASA’s Constellation project in 2011 by President Obama himself which turned most of the United States’ attempts to return to the Moon and Mars to (you guessed it) private corporations. Also, to quote a recent article from the Huffington Post from this past September: “Federal spending on research and development has declined by 16.3% since 2010, the fastest drop in a three-year period since the end of the space race in the 1970s, according to an analysis published on September 3 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC.
The most drastic reduction occurred on March 1, 2013, when across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration lopped 5% from the budgets of most government agencies. Science powerhouses such as the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, and the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia, began to scrimp by reducing the values and durations of grants, and the number of recipients per application cycle.”
This is the vaunted commitment to science the Administration supposedly champions?
Over the years, representatives of this government have said all kinds of outlandish and moronic things. Regrettably, most of them are still on the job. If we are going to start firing public officials because they say things we don’t like or that collapse under the weight of evidence, then maybe we ought to start with those in Congress who hold the national economy hostage on a regular basis until they extract a political ransom. Or members of the judiciary who are all too happy to undermine the most fundamental of rights we have as citizens, the right to vote, in areas where racial discrimination is still the order of the day. Or how about the guy in the White House himself, who apparently still considers the civilian loss of life in drone attacks to be mere collateral damage and continues the program with only token regret for the colossal loss of innocent life that accompanies it? Sorry people, but the director of the DEA is small potatoes compared to what others in this government say, and do, every day.
As an aside, marijuana advocates have been calling for the dismantling of the DEA and the firing of every director since the agency was founded in 1973. This kind of thing really isn’t news. Even if nobody said anything, there would still be calls for the DEA to be shuttered and the director to be dismissed. So let’s be honest, what’s the story here? Evidence to support the decriminalization of marijuana hasn’t changed official policy on the national level over the years. Change seems to be occurring only at the state level and even there it isn’t the smashing success many hoped it would be, at least not yet. If the only argument you have is that the DEA is an oppressive, Nixonian hangover, and that’s a major argument, then you stand on thin ice. This issue is becoming the left’s version of the right’s argument that the ATF should be dismantled. We as liberals really do not want to go there.