He’s been president less than a week, but Donald Trump has already sheathed the Oval Office in Trump Organization-worthy gold. The ominous symbolism is also practical, as it provides the proper atmosphere in which to systematically dismantle almost everything Barack Obama accomplished while in office, just as Trump promised.
But amid reviving pipelines, gutting healthcare and endangering the health of women across the world, Trump isn’t shredding every last little vestige of the last eight years… unfortunately. For now, at least, Trump is keeping DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg.
This is the same Chuck Rosenberg who said smoking marijuana medicinally is a big “joke,” and whose agency rejected in August the latest effort to reschedule cannabis from the government’s list of the most dangerous substances known to man.
Rosenberg took over the nation’s federal drug police in May 2015, taking over after a disastrous, scandal-ridden term under career drug cop Michele Leonhart. Before heading to the DEA, Rosenberg served as chief of staff at the FBI for Director James Comey—the same James Comey who interfered with the election in a manner that benefited Trump and who will also retain his job. (By the way, take a gander at the DEA’s shiny, auric official logo. Does it remind you of anything?)
Under Leonhart, who spent three decades at the DEA, agents on assignment overseas in Colombia enjoyed raucous sex parties. Leonhart’s strict, “the war’s still on” approach to states legalizing marijuana also clashed with Obama’s hands-off, “let the states decide” doctrine.
Soon after taking over, Rosenberg earned eternal ire from medical-marijuana advocates for a dishonest diatribe on the substance. Here he is talking to reporters in fall 2015:
“What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal—because it’s not. We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don’t call it medicine—that is a joke.”
“There are pieces of marijuana—extracts or constituents or component parts—that have great promise… But if you talk about smoking the leaf of marijuana—which is what people are talking about when they talk about medicinal marijuana—it has never been shown to be safe or effective as a medicine.”
That led to petitions to remove Rosenberg from office and criticism from members of Congress. None of that went anywhere, but under Rosenberg, the DEA has yet to stage any significant crackdown on state-legal medical marijuana or the country’s rapidly growing cannabis industry.
This is because the DEA chief takes direction from the attorney general, and under Obama’s A.G. Loretta Lynch, the agency prioritized work on the nation’s widening heroin and prescription pill abuse epidemic rather than spending time interfering with the states on weed.
But under Trump, Rosenberg’s DEA will take direction from a Justice Department led by Jeff Sessions, who is almost certain to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate as the nation’s top law-enforcement officer. Though he has been deliberately intransigent about his plans for the country’s widening popular experiment with ramping down a drug war that began under Nixon, Sessions is notoriously anti-legalization and supports stiff penalties for drug use like the mandatory minimums that have led America to have the globe’s highest incarceration rate—meaning there’s every indication that the DEA will be used as a weapon against weed.
Not that Rosenberg’s record under Obama is any cause for hope, either.
In August, after months of rumor that the DEA would cop to science and public opinion and remove marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act—allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis-derived medicines and greatly enhancing scientists’ ability to study the stuff—the DEA rejected rescheduling petitions that had sizable support in Congress. As U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer put it, the DEA’s rigid obstructionism was “outrageous” and “deeply hypocritical.”
What will Rosenberg’s DEA do under Trump?
So far, Rosenberg has set his sights far away from the domestic cannabis industry, jetting to China and Thailand this month to push stricter enforcement on synthetic marijuana—chemicals which often originate in China—and on opiates like fentanyl, the synthetic, incredibly powerful morphine substitute that killed Prince.
As with nearly everything else related to drug policy in America right now, it’s all waiting on Jeff Sessions—and that’s far from encouraging.
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