Friday, July 31, 2015
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new Politico article, headline "Congress’ Summer Fling With Marijuana:How Congress turned on the DEA and embraced weed." Here is an excerpt from the first part of the article:
In May, the Senate made history by voting in favor of the first pro-marijuana measure ever offered in that chamber to allow the Veterans Administration to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. Then when June rolled around, it was time for the House to pass its appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice and Science. That’s when things got interesting. The DEA got its budget cut by $23 million, had its marijuana eradication unit’s budget slashed in half and its bulk data collections program shut down. Ouch.
In short, April was a bad month for the DEA; May was historically bad; but June was arguably the DEA’s worst month since Colorado went legal 18 months ago — a turn of events that was easy to miss with the news crammed with tragic shootings, Confederate flags, Obamacare, gay marriage, a papal encyclical and the Greece-Euro drama. July hasn’t been any different, with the legalization movement only gaining steam in both chambers of Congress.
The string of setbacks, cuts and handcuffs for the DEA potentially signals a new era for the once untouchable law enforcement agency — a sign that the national reconsideration of drug policy might engulf and fundamentally alter DEA’s mission. “The DEA is no longer sacrosanct,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) tells Politico.
The national tide is clearly not in the DEA’s favor. Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in January 2014, three additional states have followed suit with full legal weed; the District of Columbia’s fight to legalize continues; the number of medical marijuana states has grown to 23; 14 states have legalized nonpsychoactive CBD oil; and 13 states have legalized industrial hemp, spurring a rapidly expanding legal market for a plant long demonized by the DEA.
At the same time, a national debate about the high costs of sending millions of people — many of them young black and Hispanic men — to prison for nonviolent marijuana offenses has led to increasing questions about whether the zero-tolerance enforcement favored by DEA is the right way to proceed.
That marijuana reform is moving along in Congress at all is a sign of just how far — and fast — the landscape has shifted. Much of the recent uptick of reform voices are actually coming from Republicans, long tough-on-crime legislators who were stalwart opponents of marijuana. In a sign of just how far the sands have shifted, Sen. Lindsay Graham, a Republican candidate for president, tells Politico that he believes, “Medical marijuana holds promise.”
It’s no longer political suicide to be seen on Capitol Hill as backing drug reform. “There clearly is momentum, absolutely,” says Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a former Air Force JAG officer who replaced Henry Waxman as the congressman from Beverly Hills. “It’s the first time we’ve ever been able to show momentum in Congress,” Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project tells Politico.
The looming cuts has the Justice Department issuing dire warnings: “If enacted, the House budget would cause DEA to experience a significant shortfall in their FY16 budget that would severely inhibit their ability to carry out their mission of stopping the manufacture and distribution of illicit drugs,” says Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesman for DOJ. But unlike such dire warnings in the past, when Congress could be assured of protecting funding for a law enforcement agency seen for decades as key to winning the War on Drugs, the shine has now clearly come off DEA — and that means the agency’s problems might just be beginning.