As reported by both the New York Times and the Washington Post, Chuck Rosenberg, acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, is set to resign by week’s end. His departure, as the New York Times describes, is due to his increasing resolve that President Trump “has little respect for the law.” Rosenberg was no friend of marijuana. He called medical cannabis “a joke” just two years ago.
Rosenberg, who leaves on October 1, was a holdover from the days of the Obama Administration. In his capacity as acting head, he has been running the agency since 2015. He took on the role when then-DEA Administrator, Michelle Leonhart, resigned over a poorly handled scandal involving prostitutes and DEA agents. Leonhart also had strong opinions about state-legal marijuana.
In fact, Leonhart disagreed emphatically with how President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder were handling the issue of legalization at the state level. Rosenberg arrived to head the DEA fresh from serving as Chief of Staff to James Comey, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations at the time. However, earlier this year, President Trump fired Comey.
Comey’s firing did nothing to melt the frosty relationship between President Trump and his acting DEA administrator. Tensions have been growing ever since. When Trump asked police not to be too nice to criminal suspects and handle them without kid gloves, Rosenberg sent DEA employees an email rejecting Trump’s comments. He wrote, “We have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong.”
The acting DEA head was a staunch opponent of the legal marijuana industry. Just once, he allowed that pot was “probably not” as harmful as heroin, but almost in the same breath, he said, “marijuana is not medicine.” After calling medical marijuana “a joke” in late 2015, several advocates for patient rights called on Rosenberg to resign.
During that fateful 2015 interview with reporters, Rosenberg made quite a few brow-raising comments. He said, “What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal because it is not. We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but does not call it medicine, that is a joke.”
Rosenberg also claimed, “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 medical marijuana, it has never been shown to be safe or effective as medicine.”
Already eight months into his presidential term, President Trump has yet to appoint anyone to head the DEA. Although the presence of Rosenberg did not prevent the White House from nominating a candidate, his departure will certainly add pressure on the administration to fill the position. As one of the Justice Departments’ many federal agencies, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the one to oversee it.