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Will Godfrey Will Godfrey

How Much Longer Will the DEA Have the Power to Bully Doctors?


Recent DEA tactics in Massachusetts underline the importance of making it illegal for the agency to pursue state-licensed medical marijuana providers.

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Last week, the House of Representatives voted to ban the DEA from raiding state-licensed medical marijuana patients and providers—the first ever major marijuana law reform approved by Congress. But with medical marijuana legal in 22 states, a report published in the Boston Globe today shows why it’s vital that the Senate follows suit.

Massachusetts legalized medical marijuana in 2012. But DEA agents there have been threatening doctors who are involved with medical marijuana dispensaries with the loss of their federal licenses to prescribe controlled drugs. Faced with the potential loss of their livelihoods, in the last two weeks at least two physicians have been forced to give up their positions as medical officers at planned medical marijuana dispensaries.

One of the doctors contacted by the Globe, speaking anonymously “for fear of reprisal,” had two investigators show up at his office last month. “DEA agents can be quite direct when they want to make an impression on you,” he says. “My terrified secretary asked what to do with them.” After 15 minutes of questioning, it became clear that “The gist was to get me to either relinquish the DEA license, if I insisted on continuing with the dispensary, or give the license up ‘temporarily’ while involved with the dispensary.” Although he was told that he could reapply for his DEA license if he gave it up, there would be no guarantee of its restoration. So he “had no choice” but to resign from the dispensary.

“The fact that they’re engaging in this kind of bullying behavior shows how out of touch the DEA is with both voters and elected officials,” Bill Piper, the director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and a leading campaigner behind last week’s vote, tells Substance.com. “This harassment of doctors occurred before the House voted to cut off funding to the DEA’s war on medical marijuana,” he notes, and “I think the DEA will probably change course and be more accommodating.” However, “If they don’t, Congress will mandate it, they will probably have their budget cut, and Administrator Leonhart may find herself looking for a new job.”

A recent campaign has seen members of Congress and activists call for Michele Leonhart to be fired as DEA administrator—for a series of DEA scandals, the obstruction of drug policy reforms pursued by Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama, and the obstruction of scientific research. The campaign, which uses the #fireleonhart hashtag on Twitter, is “gaining steam,” says Piper.