05/04/14 Michelle Leonhart

Doug McVay report:Portions of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing/lovefest from earlier this week with DEA Administrator Michelle Leonhart, Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Charles Grassley talking about heroin, prescription drugs, and legal marijuana."

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, May 4, 2014
Guest: 
Michelle Leonhart
Organization: 
Drug Enforcement Administration
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Century of Lies May 4, 2014

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DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

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DOUG McVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your guest host, Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network, and is brought to you through the Pacifica network's radio station KPFT-fm in Houston, Texas. Find us on the web at http://drugtruth.net, where you can find past programs and you can subscribe to our podcasts. You can follow me on twitter, where I'm at drug policy facts, and also at doug mcvay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on Facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends.

Before we start, I want to say hello to a few of the stations out there that carry Century Of Lies, including KOWA-LP 106.5 FM in Olympia, WA; WIEC 102.7 FM in Eau Claire, WI; KRFP 90.3 FM in Moscow, Idaho; and WERU 89.9 FM in Blue Hill, Maine. You can also hear Century Of Lies via 420 Radio dot org on Mondays at 7am, Tuesdays at 10pm, and Saturdays at 2am. If you're listening via any of our affiliates or 420 Radio, thank you!

Let's get to the news.

It's probably come to the attention of most that two US states recently legalized the adult social use of marijuana. Combined with all the states that have legalized medical cannabis to some extent, there is a lot of momentum behind the growth and development of cannabis-related industries. Paraphernalia manufacturers, for example – they don't like to be called paraphernalia manufacturers, by the way, what with paraphernalia being illegal in so many places, but I'm old-school and that's how life goes.

Anyway, there's a new category of paraphernalia that's growing big-time, that's the so-called vape pen. The science is vaporization is simple, as explained in this article from Nature: Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics in 2007, “Vaporization as a Smokeless Cannabis Delivery System: A Pilot Study,” quote: “Cannabis vaporization is a technology for delivering inhaled tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabinoids while reducing toxic byproducts of smoked cannabis primarily caused by combustion. By heating cannabis to a temperature between 180 and 200 C, it is possible to vaporize the cannabinoids that reside on the trichomes on the surface of cannabis flowers and leaves, while avoiding combustion (which occurs at 230 C and above) and attendant smoke toxins. Vaporization is a relatively new technology. Various vaporizer designs are currently under development.” End quote.

Various designs are under development – now that is what's called an understatement. Vaporization has moved well beyond the hot air gun and the volcano. There are dozens of different vape pens out there. It's a crowded business space. It's tough for any of the players to stand out. One company has come up with something that is definitely getting them noticed. OpenVape, which is based in Denver, Colorado, has announced that they are instituting a urine drug testing program for their employees.

I'll say that again: A paraphernalia manufacturer based in the legal-marijuana state of Colorado has announced that they are instituting a urine drug testing program for their employees.

Regular listeners are probably already aware that drug testing is a foolish idea, that it's not effective at preventing substance use, that cocaine and heroin are hard to detect and eliminated from the system within a day or two while cannabis – you know, the stuff that's legal in Colorado – stays vs in the system for weeks. Folks can get the research behind all that through the Drug War Facts website – start in the drug testing overview, then check out the section on Employee and Workplace Testing. Here's an item you'll find, from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's 2010 publication Drugs Research: “An overview of evidence and questions for policy,” quote:

"While the inquiry team could see a role for employee drug testing within safety-critical areas (although even here they were far from convinced that such drug testing was effective), there was deep skepticism as to the value of such testing more broadly. Indeed, the inquiry team noted that ‘For the most part, it is unclear that anything can be achieved through drug and alcohol testing that could not be done better through other managerial and supervisory processes’” End quote.

A tip of the hat to Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell, who hipped me to this story. Tom does good work, and the Marijuana Majority is a great organization. Their website is at marijuanamajority dot com, check it out.

Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary committee held a hearing on heroin and prescription opiate use. The sole witness was the top cop at the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michelle Leonhart. Let's hear some of the action.

We'll first hear from Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat from Vermont, then the committee's ranking Minority Member Senator Charles Grassley, then Administrator Leonhart.

PATRICK LEAHY: I apologize for the delay. I thank the senators who are here – Senator Grassley, Senator Sessions, Senator Flake, of course, Senator Whitehouse who will take over this hearing at some point...I had a chance to chat with Administrator Leonhart in the back. I appreciate very much having you here.

The hearing comes at an important time. Our nation continues to struggle with an old and unfortunately persistent problem – the seemingly unrelenting addition to powerful controlled substances. I think a lot of that problem is evolving and changing. The drug of choice are evolving along with the path to addiction for many Americans.

I said to Miss Leonhart that it’s a lot different from the days decades ago when I was a prosecutor and when Senator Sessions or Senator Whitehouse worked. Prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic levels, overdoses from prescription opiates now account for than half of all drug-related deaths. That’s something that we didn’t see not very long ago.

Around the country law enforcement is out demonstrating a strong commitment to creative approaches to combating drug abuse. We’ve seen that enforcement alone is not enough. No amount of arrests or seized drugs can truly break America’s drug habit. We need a comprehensive approach – one that includes prevention and treatment, re-entry services.

One month ago I brought the Senate Judiciary Committee in Vermont. In a very small city, like rural towns across the country, it has seen a surge in addiction to heroin and other opiates but the community has come together in respond in a remarkable way. That hearing wasn’t a case of people pointing fingers at each other they were saying, “We’re all in this together.”

The police department almost functions as a community organizer. They partner with early intervention coordination and social workers even building inspectors to address addiction from every angle. Similarly the Justice Department commits to a similar approach - the Smart on Crime Initiative. The department is supporting prevention and re-entry efforts and promoting fairer sentences.

The DEA is committed to addressing drug abuse through prevention. The DEA has long supported educational programs aimed to reduce the demand for drugs. I view in the same light the Office of Diversion Control which controls the distribution of prescription drugs.

I was pleased to see in conjunction with the DEA authorities in Vermont just last weekend recovered over 3,300 pounds of unused prescription drugs through a “Take Back” event. Now 3,300 pounds...remember we’re a state with only 26,000 people. This was enormous. It means hundreds of thousands of unwanted pills will no longer be sitting on shelves and susceptible to abuse.

Effective diversion control means effective addiction prevention. While the DEA is doing critical, important work in many areas I do have some concerns that I have raised. I have some concerns about DEA Special Operations’ investigative techniques. We have discussed this privately and the sensitivity of it. We will not discuss it openly in this hearing but it’s an area where additional oversight is needed. I want the DEA to cooperate with those of us who have the responsibility of oversight.

I’ve repeatedly sought answers regarding the DEA’s involvement in a 2012 counter-narcotics operation in Honduras. 4 Honduran civilians were killed including a 14-year-old boy. The DEA must make changes to ensure this type of tragedy does not happen again. I realize that was before your time but I wanted you to take a look at that because if they haven’t taken steps to ensure this wouldn’t happen again I would have difficulty supporting the DEA’s participation in such operations in the future either wearing my hat in this committee or another hat I wear in the Appropriations Committee.

Administrator, thank you very much and thank you for the time you’ve spent on this act. I am eager to hear your ideas and right after we hear from Senator Grassley we will hear from you.

CHARLES GRASSLEY: Welcome Administrator Leonhart. Thank you for coming. Your agency faces many challenges as it tries and works to keep us safe from dangerous drugs. I’m going to point out in my questioning and in my statement that some of those problems coming from the Executive Branch make your job even harder from my point of view.

The United States is experiencing this epidemic that the chairman spoke about about opiate abuse – particularly heroin and prescription pain killers. We recently had a survey of 700,000 Americans reported using heroin in the past year. That seems to be increasing. We read about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman pointing out as just one example of heroin overdose.

Law enforcement including your agency has a critical role to play in responding to the epidemic and, of course, we can’t arrest our way out of this but we can maintain the current law enforcement tools that help the DEA go after those who are trafficking heroin. Unfortunately, as I said about the executive branch making your job more difficult and there is disagreement on this committee on this issue, but I think the sense being built supports the administration’s supports does just the opposite of the proposed Smarter Sentencing Act that recently passed out of this committee cuts the mandatory minimum sentences for those who manufacture, transport or distribute even heroin and it cuts that sentence in half. These are penalties for dealers – not users.

In the midst of the heroin epidemic this makes no sense. I don’t want you to take my word for it and opposing the bill the federal prosecutors themselves wrote and the current system penalties is a cornerstone of their ability to infiltrate and dismantle large-scale ...this is a quotation, cornerstone of their ability “to infiltrate and dismantle large-scale drug trafficking organizations and to take violent armed career criminals off the streets.”

That’s a quote from federal prosecutors. I don’t want to remove that cornerstone.

Another challenge for your agency and I hope to discuss is the mixed message from the administration that young people get about the dangers of marijuana use. The Department of Justice declined to challenge state laws that have legalized marijuana despite the obvious conflict with federal law. In an interview the president said this, that it was “important” that these states “go forward with legalization.”

This has caused confusion and uncertainty about whether using marijuana is really something to be discouraged. We had a recent scientific study as a reminder of how dangerous marijuana use can be. A paper published earlier this month by the Journal of Neuroscience concluded that even casual marijuana use was associated with potential harmful changes to the brain particularly to the young people.

The Department of Justice apparently concluded not so long as states that legalize marijuana create effective regulatory schemes then federal enforcement didn’t consider that a priority. Those priorities include the prevention of violence, increased use among minors and diversion of marijuana to other states but we are seeing particularly in recent news stories minors getting very much involved in that use and even sale and diversion of marijuana to other states they’re telling me even in Iowa there’s a lot of marijuana coming from Colorado so I hope the administration is taking a look at the announcement they made of what they consider a priority for prosecution.

As a result it’s hardly surprising that a senior DEA official recently told the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control that what was happening in these states - meaning Washington or states where there’s been recreational marijuana or even medicinal marijuana – is “reckless and irresponsible.”

At this point those words apply equally to the Department of Justice policy that has permitting states to legalize a drug for recreational purposes that congress has chosen to make illegal.

As the above examples attest marijuana being combined with cookies and candy in Colorado in a way that is attractive to young people including children I hope to discuss legislation with Senator Feinstein that Senator Feinstein and I introduced last year called, “Saving Kids from Dangerous Drug Acts” that we can get something done to deter this kind of marketing.

I am going to put the rest on my statement on the records, Mr. Chairman.

PATRICK LEAHY: Thank you very much and let’s look at any legislation that you or anybody may come up with as I’m always worried about legislation that steps on states’ rights and what they might be doing.

Please go ahead, Miss Leonhart.

MICHELLE LEONHART: [written statement from http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/04-30-14LeonhartTestimony....

Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley, and Members of the Committee: Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to testify regarding oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). As the leader of DEA, an organization of almost 10,000 employees dedicated to a vital mission, I would like to express our collective appreciation for the support that this Committee has shown us over the years. Furthermore, I welcome the opportunity to continue our partnership and to share DEA’s recent accomplishments with you and the American people.

DEA, in its unique capacity as the world’s preeminent drug law enforcement agency, identifies, investigates, disrupts, and dismantles drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) responsible for the production and distribution of illegal drugs. DEA is responsible for enforcing the provisions of domestic controlled substance and chemical diversion trafficking laws and consequently works closely with our local, state, federal, and international counterparts. Enforcement is, and will always be, our top priority.

Throughout DEA’s 40-year history, we have safeguarded Americans from the dangers associated with the drug trade. In recent years, DEA investigations, partnered with other Federal, State, local, and international law enforcement counterparts, have resulted in the successful arrest of major international criminals, including arms trafficker Viktor Bout, ‘The Prince of Marbella’ Monzer Al Kassar, Afghan drug lord Haji Baghco, Colombian drug trafficker Daniel Barrera-Barrera (aka Loco Barrera), former President of Guatemala Alfonso Portillo. Most recently, DEA supported the Mexican government’s successful efforts to apprehend the head of the world’s largest and most prolific drug trafficking organization, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera.

We have also had many notable successes in the effort to reduce drug abuse in this country since DEA’s inception in 1973 by combating illicit drug availability. According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the overall rate of illicit drug use in America has dropped by roughly 35 percent since 1979. Since 2006, we have seen sharp decreases in the number of current users of cocaine (32 percent) and methamphetamine (40 percent). Statistics like these demonstrate that through a balanced drug control strategy, one that includes strong enforcement, education, prevention, and treatment components, we can make significant progress in protecting our nation from the dangers of drug use.

While these overall trends are positive, we still face significant challenges. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 38,329 people died from a drug overdose in the United States in 2010, the most recent year for which information is available. Nearly 60 percent of those drug overdose deaths (22,134) involved prescription drugs. And of those deaths, 75 percent (16,651) involved an opioid analgesic, also known as prescription painkillers. These deaths represent not just a statistic, but our family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Years of over prescribing prescription painkillers and decreased perception of risk associated with drug use, particularly opiate abuse, has created too many new addicts. The rates are alarming: in 2011, 2.1 million Americans abused or were dependent to opioid pain relievers and 438,000 were addicted to heroin.

DEA intelligence indicates that South American and Mexican drug trafficking organizations have exploited this increased demand by producing heroin with increased purity that is not only more readily available, but also cheaper. That product enters the United States primarily across our southwest border and, not surprisingly, the amount of heroin seized there has increased nearly 300 percent from 2008 to 2013. During roughly the same time period (2008 to 2010), heroin-related overdose deaths have increased by 45 percent. This disturbing increase may be attributable to increased purity and a younger, less experienced user population. As the Administration takes a multifaceted approach to curb the availability of prescription-based painkillers on the illicit market, those addicted to opioids who are not seeking medication-assisted therapy may increasingly turn to cheaper or more easily-obtained alternatives, such as heroin.

In addition, approximately 4.3 million people abuse or are dependent upon marijuana, more than any other illicit drug. Currently, marijuana is the most widely available and commonly abused illicit drug in the United States. In 2012 alone, nearly 32 million people ages 12 and older reported using the drug within the past year, and in 2013 one out of every 15 high school seniors is a near daily marijuana user. A major study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August 2012, found that long-term marijuana use started in the teen years has a negative effect on intellectual function in adulthood; the more persistent the person's dependence on marijuana, the more significant the impairment. Heavy marijuana users also reported that the drug impaired several important measures of health and quality of life, including physical and mental health, cognitive abilities, social life, and career status. These statistics help describe the effects of marijuana and the health and safety implications on the users themselves, their families, and our communities.

DEA’s enforcement responsibility as it pertains to marijuana and other drugs are clearly delineated in federal law. The Administration continues to steadfastly oppose marijuana legalization, and DEA will continue to build cases against individuals and organizations that are using state marijuana laws as a pretext to engage in large-scale trafficking of marijuana and other illicit drugs to other states; target marijuana businesses near schools, parks, and playgrounds; and take action against those who cause environmental damage by growing marijuana on our public lands. But our responsibility and dedication to the American people goes further ? to educate about the misperceptions and dangers associated with drug abuse. The Food and Drug Administration has noted that “there is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful,” and “that no sound scientific studies support medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data support the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use.”

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have now legalized marijuana’s use for certain medical conditions. These laws authorize the smoking of marijuana plants or the consumption of crude extracts that have not undergone scientific testing demonstrating that they are both safe and effective. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other components of the National Institutes of Health are conducting research to determine the possible role that active chemicals in marijuana, like tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, or other cannabinoids may play in treating autoimmune diseases, cancer, inflammation, pain, seizures, substance use disorders, and other psychiatric disorders. DEA supports these, scientific research efforts by providing Schedule I research registrations to qualified researchers. In fact, DEA has never denied a marijuana-related research application to anyone whose research protocol had been determined by the Department of Health and Human Services to be scientifically meritorious.

Perhaps one of the most effective tools DEA has in this fight is our ability to target the financial infrastructure of major drug trafficking organizations and members of the financial community who facilitate the laundering of their proceeds. By seizing drug proceeds, DEA prevents drug trafficking organizations from using these funds to fuel the next round of drug production or other nefarious activity to include terrorism. Between FY 2005 through the end of FY 2013, DEA has denied drug trafficking organizations approximately $25.7 billion in revenue, including $3.5 billion in FY 2013 alone. To put that in perspective, DEA’s total appropriated budget over that same time period totaled $16.9 billion.

Looking forward, DEA will continue to build on the progress we have made both domestically and internationally. With our state and local partners we target traffickers who significantly impact communities across the nation, frequently bringing with them associated gang activity and violence. These investigations complement and support our international partnerships, allowing DEA to target the world’s “Most Wanted” drug traffickers who manage sophisticated criminal organizations with operations that span the globe. Due to the very nature of the threat, it is clear that the antidrug mission this agency carries out is an essential element to the national health and security of the U.S. and our interests abroad.

These comprehensive efforts reflect our historic commitment to bringing drug traffickers to justice. And nowhere is this commitment more evident than in Mexico with the February 22, 2014 arrest of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, by Mexican authorities. This was a significant achievement for Mexico and a major step forward in our shared fight against transnational organized crime, violence, and drug trafficking. We congratulate the Mexican people and their government on this capture. The DEA and Mexico have a strong partnership, and we will continue to support Mexico in its efforts to improve security for its citizens and continue to work together to respond to the evolving threats posed by transnational criminal organizations.

Enforcement strategies such as these, which target major drug trafficking organizations and their proceeds, are one element in the Administration’s comprehensive national drug control strategy. Drug trafficking and abuse harms our citizens and endangers future generations of Americans. Today’s drug traffickers exploit new and evolving technologies to communicate, launder ill-gotten gains, and facilitate the smuggling of drugs and weapons. DEA must use every tool in the toolbox to combat these organizations through strategic enforcement.

Moving forward, DEA will continue to build upon these gains and focus on emerging threats. Additionally, we will keep working alongside Members of this Committee and other leaders to advance legislation to strengthen the Controlled Substances Act, to ensure the law keeps pace with changes in technology, illicit drug manufacturing, and the discovery of new substances that can be abused.

Targeting the world’s most prolific and dangerous drug traffickers is a dynamic and evolving mission, and with it comes a myriad of challenges. But throughout our history, DEA has met those challenges and produced impressive results. Using a blend of ingenuity, dedication and drive, our agency has time and again targeted the world’s most infamous criminals and brought them to justice. DEA plays an important role in our country’s holistic strategy of prevention, treatment, and enforcement.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the activities of the DEA. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

PATRICK LEAHY: It will be placed into the record and we do appreciate you being here. After all you are somebody with 30 years of law enforcement experience having served as a Baltimore City police officer and then as a DEA special agent so you can speak of firsthand knowledge on many of these things.

I am concerned how prescription opiates have become the drug of choice in America. We’ve seen it all over the country. Demand for treatment has skyrocketed. Death from overdose has far eclipsed all other drugs. Opioid addiction all too often leads to heroin as you know. We see this in every state including my own of Vermont.

That’s why it’s concerning to powerful new opioids without any abuse deterrent technologies enter our communities. The most recent example I’ve been told about is Zohydro. What is the DEA doing to monitor the use of this and what will you do if you find widespread abuse?

MICHELLE LEONHART: Thank you Senator for mentioning the opioid problem. It is the nation’s fastest growing drug problem and it is not confined to large cities or the west coast vs. the east coast. It is across our country so DEA shares your concerns.

We also share the concern with any new opioids that come on the market and have to be prepared for additional use to become additional abuse...

PATRICK LEAHY: ...and Zohydro?

MICHELLE LEONHART: We anticipate because it’s really the first pure hydrocodone product coming out that we will have addicts seeks it out just because it is pure hydrocodone. We’re concerned because anytime you put a new opiate on the street...we all remember the days of OxyContin when that was released. This is a drug that is coming out without any tamper resistant ability to prevent it from being crushed, smoked and snorted by addicts so we’re very concerned but we also believe that the enforcement efforts that we’ve put forth and what we’ve done to really move our agency towards prioritizing prescription drugs will help alleviate, will help confront any additional use or abuse we see...

PATRICK LEAHY: I would [inaudible] that the manufacturer would cooperate with you otherwise they face the potential of a backlash from congress that some of them probably would not want to face so I hope that they do cooperate with you.

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DOUG McVAY: You are listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your guest host, Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org.

Finally, our friends with the group patients out of time are bringing their prestigious clinical cannabis conference series to Portland, Oregon May 8-10.

The theme for The Eighth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics is: The Endocannabinoid System and Age-Related Illnesses. Presentations will focus on the emerging science of the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS) and its effects on health as we age. This conference will promote understanding cannabis as beneficial not only as a medicine for the ill, but also as helpful in preventing many health problems, keeping systems in balance and protecting us from stressors.

Preconference workshops take place on May 8th at Portland University Place Hotel, with separate tracks providing continuing education credits for doctors, for nurses, and, new this year, for lawyers. The main conference begins May 9th at the Hotel and continues May 10th at the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM). Information and registration details are available through the Patients Out of Time website at http://medicalcannabis.com. For those who can't make it to Portland yet are still interested in the conference, a simulcast is available. Contact Patients Out of Time through their website for more details.

That's it for this week. This has been Century of Lies. Thank you for listening. You can find a recording of this show and past shows at the website htttp://drugtruth.net, where you can also check out our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts. Follow me on Twitter, where I'm @ Drug Policy Facts. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on Facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends. Spread the word. Remember: Knowledge is power.

For the drug truth network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

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For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org