At a Judiciary Subcommittee meeting in the House of Representatives in 2012, the head of the DEA, Michele Leonhart, declined to admit marijuana was any worse than heroin.
"I believe, uh, all illegal drugs are bad," Leonhart said, demurring from the larger point at hand—that, according to the DEA, marijuana is equally as dangerous as heroin. Both drugs are categorized as schedule I, meaning they have "no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," despite evidence pointing to the contrary for marijuana.
Leonhart resigned in May, leaving the position to Chuck Rosenberg. In an interview with US News today, Rosenberg implicitly admitted that he disagreed with his predecessor:
“If you want me to say that marijuana’s not dangerous, I’m not going to say that because I think it is,” Rosenberg said. “Do I think it’s as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I’m not an expert.”
He added: “Let me say it this way: I’d rather be in a car accident going 30 miles an hour than 60 miles an hour, but I’d prefer not to be in a car accident at all.”
This isn't just a stoner issue. The federal government's aggressive position on marijuana has long kept the drug from being legalized on a federal level, to the disproportionate detriment of minorities. As Michelle Alexander writes in her book The New Jim Crow, “in some states, black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times greater than those of white men."
Marijuana's been classified as a schedule I drug since the start of the Controlled Substance Act in 1970. A recent challenge to reschedule the drug fell short in April, but perhaps Rosenberg's admission today will be a step forward in reforming this arcane piece of legislation.
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.