As the U.S. House of Representatives considers the Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill today and tomorrow, legislators could vote on at least seven amendments designed to reduce the power of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and cut its budget.
The DEA has existed for more than 40 years, but little attention has been given to the role the agency has played in fueling mass incarceration, racial disparities and other problems exacerbated by the drug war. Congress has rarely scrutinized the agency, its actions or its budget, instead deferring to DEA administrators on how best to deal with drug-related issues.
That all has changed recently after a series of scandals that sparked several hearings in the House and Senate and forced the resignation of the DEA's beleaguered head, Administrator Michele Leonhart.
"There's unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on marijuana and letting states set their own drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The more the DEA blocks sensible reforms the more they will see their agency's power and budget come under deeper scrutiny."
The Drug Policy Alliance recently released a new report, The Scandal-Ridden DEA: Everything You Need to Know. The report and a comprehensive set of background resources about our campaign to rein in the DEA are available at: www.drugpolicy.org/DEA
One bipartisan amendment being offered on the House floor would prohibit the DEA from undermining state marijuana laws. It is being offered by Representatives Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).
Currently, 23 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have legalized marijuana for a variety of medicinal purposes - and an additional 16 states have passed laws to allow access to CBD oils, a non-psychotropic component of marijuana that has proven uniquely effective in managing epileptic seizures that afflict children.
Four states - Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington - have legalized marijuana like alcohol. In 2016, voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada are expected to decide ballot initiatives on the question of legalizing marijuana for adult use. A slew of recent polls show that significant majorities of both Democrats and Republicans strongly believe that the decision of whether and how to regulate marijuana should be left up to the states.
A similar bipartisan amendment is being offered by other members of Congress, except it would only apply to medical marijuana. It is being offered by Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Reid Ribble (R-WI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Joe Heck (R-NV), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Don Young (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Dina Titus (D-NV).
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment passed the U.S. House last year with strong bipartisan support. It made it into the final CJS spending bill signed into law by the President. Because it was attached to an annual spending bill it will expire later this year unless Congress renews it.
A third bipartisan amendment prevents DEA and DOJ from using federal funds to engage in bulk collection of Americans' communications records. It is being offered by Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), David Schweikert (R-AZ), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
In 2013 a major Reuters expose reported that the DEA has been collaborating with the NSA, CIA, and other agencies to spy on American citizens in the name of the War on Drugs. The journalists also revealed that DEA agents are actively creating - and encouraging other agencies to create - fake investigative trails to disguise where the information originated, known as "parallel construction", a scheme that prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and others are arguing has robbed defendants of their right to a fair trial. Hundreds or thousands of cases could be affected.
In April of this year USA Today reported that the DEA and Justice Department have been keeping secret records of billions of international phone calls made by Americans for decades. The program was the first known U.S. effort to gather bulk data on U.S. citizens, regardless of whether or not they were suspected of committing a crime. It formed the basis of post-9/11 spying programs; thus the DEA built the modern surveillance state.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) may offer an amendment prohibiting the DEA from using United Nations treaties as an excuse to deny applications to make marijuana for medical research. Even though many countries around the world allow private production of marijuana for research purposes, and the U.S. allows private production of cocaine, heroin, LSD, and other drugs for research purposes, the DEA colludes with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to prevent researchers from manufacturing marijuana for FDA-approved clinical trials. Until this obstacle is removed the FDA cannot consider the benefits and risks of marijuana use for medical purposes.
In addition Rep. Ted Liew (D-CA) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) are offering an amendment to shift $9 million from the DEA's failed Cannabis Reduction and Eradication program to the VAWA Consolidated Youth Oriented Program ($4 million), Victims of Child Abuse Act ($3 million), and deficit reduction ($2 million). Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) may offer amendments shifting funding from the DEA to a program to reduce the nation's backlog in processing of rape test kits and the Legal Services Corporation.
The amendments are part of a growing bipartisan effort to hold the DEA more accountable and reform U.S. drug policy.
"The DEA is a large, expensive, scandal-prone bureaucracy that has failed to reduce drug-related problems," said Piper. "Drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue; with states legalizing marijuana and adopting other drug policy reforms it is time to ask if the agency is even needed anymore."