Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) made drug reformers proud on Wednesday when he went after Drug Enforcement Administration official Michele Leonhart
during a hearing on DEA oversight. Polis refused to allow Leonhart to
get away with half-answering questions about the relative health impact
of marijuana versus other drugs.
Rep. Polis is an outspoken advocate of marijuana legalization (last year, he proposed a deficit-reduction plan that involved legalizing and taxing weed).
During the hearing, he sought to make Leonhart concede that other
Schedule I narcotics are much worse than marijuana — a point drug
reformers often use to make the case that pot shouldn’t be classified
with drugs like heroin and meth.
“Is crack worse for a person than marijuana?” Polis asked Leonhart.
“I believe all illegal drugs are bad,” she meekly replied.
“Is methamphetamine worse for somebody’s health than marijuana?”
As she began to repeat her same answer, Polis interrupted her, asking, “Is heroin worse for someone’s health than marijuana?”
“Again. All drugs…” she began to answer, before a frustrated Polis cut her off.
“Yes, no, or I don’t know,” he said. “If you don’t know, you can look
this up. You should know this as the chief administrator for the Drug
Enforcement Agency. I’m asking you a very straightforward question: Is
heroin worse for someone’s health than marijuana?”
“All illegal drugs are bad,” she replied.
“Does this mean you don’t know?” Polis interrupted.
Clearly she doesn’t. Or she simply refuses to acknowledge the facts.
Plenty of studies show that drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and
cocaine are much more addictive and harmful than marijuana. Heck, the
same studies also show that alcohol and nicotine are more addictive and
harmful than marijuana. Our own government even recognizes that nicotine is potentially as addictive as heroin and cocaine.
Despite the well-known research, Leonhart accused Polis of asking a “subjective” question.
“No, this is objective. Just looking at the science,” Polis shot
back. “This is your area of expertise. I’m just a layperson but I’ve
read some of the studies and I’m aware of it. I’m just asking you as an
expert in the subject area: is heroin worse for someone’s health than
“And I’m answering as a police officer, and as a DEA agent, that
these drugs are illegal because they are dangerous, because they are
addictive, because they do hurt a person’s health,” she replied.
He pressed her once more: “So heroin is more addictive than marijuana?”
She conceded that heroin is addictive, and so is meth, but when Polis tried to get her to answer whether they are more
addictive than marijuana, she gave yet another non-answer: “I think
some people become addicted to marijuana and some people become addicted
Eventually Polis turned the conversation to the DEA’s classification
of prescription drug abuse as “top priority,” telling Leonhart that his
home state of Colorado legalized medical marijuana and saw a decrease in
prescription drug abuse (side note: a new study also finds that medical marijuana reduces teen marijuana use).
“Would your agency consider supporting medical marijuana provisions
when that can be used in pursuit of your top priority — which is
reducing the need for prescription drugs — if it can be documented that
medical marijuana helps reduce the abuse of prescription drugs?”
Leonhart’s non-answer: “Congress determined that marijuana is a controlled substance. And DEA’s tasked with enforcing — ”
“Again,” he interrupted, “in pursuit of your ‘top priority,’ are you
willing to look at medical marijuana as a way of reducing abuse of
Leonhart’s response: “We will look at any options for reducing drug addiction.”
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