Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has weighed in on the political firestorm that has ensued since the DEA recently seized legal hemp seeds bound for a Kentucky hemp research program that was approved by Congress. McConnell told Politico last night, “It is an outrage that DEA is using finite taxpayer dollars to impound legal industrial hemp seeds.” The Kentucky Agriculture Department is suing the agency.
Hemp is not legal to grow in the U.S., though hemp products can be produced and sold in the U.S. Some states have made its cultivation legal, but these states - North Dakota, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, California, Montana, West Virginia and Vermont - have not yet begun to grow it because of resistance from the DEA. A few months ago, Congress legalized the production of hemp for research purposes in states that want to allow it. But when Kentucky recently tried to import hemp seeds to begin production, the DEA seized the seeds. Kentucky officials, including Kentucky Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were angered.
The seizure is the latest misstep by the agency, which is being investigated by the Department of Justice for numerous scandals. It is also the latest embarrassment for DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, who is increasingly out of step with Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama, and both Republicans and Democrats in Congress on sentencing, marijuana and other drug policy reforms.
“It is clear at this point that Leonhart lacks the ability to lead and should resign,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “She is plagued with scandals, out of touch with reality, and increasingly an embarrassment to both Attorney General Holder and President Obama.”
Earlier this month the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General launched investigations into numerous DEA scandals, including the massacre of civilians in Honduras, the use of NSA data to both spy on virtually all Americans and to systematically fabricate evidence, controversial uses of confidential informants, airline passenger searches, and sexual misconduct. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart herself has been at the center of several scandals, including the House of Death scandal in which the DEA may have turned a blind eye to torture and murder, and theAndrew Chambers scandal, in which the DEA rehired a confidential informant with a history of lying.
Moreover, Leonhart is increasingly publicly opposing drug policy reforms being pursued by her bosses, Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama, and both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. She publicly rebuked President Obama for admitting that marijuana is as safe as alcohol, told members of Congress that the DEA will continue to go after marijuana even in states where it is legal despite DOJ guidance stating otherwise,and has spoken out against bipartisan drug sentencing reformin Congress that the Obama Administration is supporting.
Rep. Steve Cohen and other members have Congress have called on Leonhart to resign. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., says in his dealings with Leonhart he has “found her to be completely incompetent and unknowledgeable.”
Just last September, more than 120 groups from across the political spectrum and around the globe, including the ACLU, Witness for Peace, Drug Policy Alliance, and the International Drug Policy Consortium sent a letter to Congress and the DOJ calling for an investigation into the DEA for its role a long list of deeply disturbing incidents.
“DEA Administrator Leonhart is virtually the only person left who still zealously supports the failed war on drugs,” said Piper. “The U.S. and the rest of the world are moving toward an approach that prioritizes public health and legal regulation – but she remains hopelessly committed to the failed war-on-drugs approach. It is time for her to go.”