Let’s Just Get Rid of the DEA Already

America's drug cops are determined to keep weed illegal just to maintain their jobs.

Photo via Flickr user Brett Neilson

During an April 3 Senate subcommittee meeting on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s budget, Michele Leonhart, the head of the DEA, reaffirmed her commitment to stopping the movement for legal marijuana from going any further—and her commitment to using any excuse she can possibly find to justify her agency's existence.

Leonhart has previously trashed her boss Barack Obama for letting Colorado and Washington state proceed with selling pot for recreational purposes. She also took issue with Obama’s line about pot being no worse than alcohol (an accurate thing to say, though it rings hypocritical given the ongoing war on drugs his administration is fighting).

But at last week’s hearing, Leonhart upped her game and verbally wrung her hands about an odd victim of the war on drugs: dogs. Yes, as USA Today cautioned in March, dogs can get sick and even die if they consume marijuana edibles. Dogs can also die from eating chocolate or getting hit by cars or getting shot by police officers, yet we never hear any noise about banning those things. Leonhart’s won’t-someone-PLEASE-think-of-the-fluffy-puppies plea makes it seem as if she truly is running on empty, argument-wise.

But she’s not done, nor is the rest of the DEA. Leonart and her agents were not disheartened by the legalization of weed in Colorado and Washington state. “Actually, it makes us fight harder,” she said at the hearing, before fretting that parents would be teaching their teens that pot isn’t so bad.

According to any poll you look at, Leonart and company’s winners-don’t-use-drugs, just-say-no rigidity is on the way out—when it comes to marijuana, at least. But until the DEA goes away, until its budget is $0 and not $2 billion, the war on drugs will still be raging. There is no reforming the DEA: Anything good it has ever done happened by accident or can be accomplished by the FBI or other law enforcement agencies. It needs to go, and it should take its ridiculous drug-warrior mentality with it.

Now on the bad cops of the week:

–A Philadelphia cop turned himself in to police on April 3 to face charges stemming from an October 20 incident in which he allegedly hit a pedestrian with his car, then waved his gun and screamed slurs at him. Officer Edward Sawicki was driving around off-duty at 2:45 AM on the night in question when he backed into a 37-year-old man, hitting him in the knee. The man smacked Sawicki’s car, and (according to the district attorney) Sawicki proceeded to jump out of the vehicle, scream, “Nigger, I’ll smoke you," and show off his gun. After the man called the police, Sawicki was suspended for 30 days and his firearm was taken away, and the police chief planned to fire him. He’s now being charged with making terroristic threats, simple assault, possession of an instrument of crime, harassment, and disorderly conduct. Sawicki and another officer are also the subject of a lawsuit filed by a man who says that in January 2012 the two cops beat and Tasered him, then hit him with their patrol car when he tried to run away.

–On April 2, a Park Forest, Illinois, police officer was charged with reckless conduct over his actions during a confrontation that ended with the death of a 95-year-old man. Last July, Craig Taylor and some other cops were called to Victory Centre nursing home after the senior citizen, John Wrana, became combative and tried to refuse medical treatment. Even though he was a frail man who needed a walker or a cane to get around, the cops were apparently threatened by Wrana—they even mistook the cane he was brandishing for a machete. The nursing home staff said they offered to help calm Wrana, but instead the man was Tasered, to no effect. Then Taylor fired five beanbag rounds at Wrana’s chest from about eight feet away, even though these rounds are supposed to be fired from a distance of at least 15 to 20 feet. Another officer knocked Wrana to the floor with his riot shield and the old man subsequently died at the hospital from blunt trauma. Prosecutors say that police did not adequately consider less violent means of quelling the cane-clutching WWII veteran before they used the rounds. Taylor faces up to three years in prison, but he may just get probation.  

–If you think that the FBI’s monitoring and harassment of left-wing activists is a relic of the COINTELPRO days, it’s worth reading Charles Davis’s recent VICE piece about how the Feds went after some Midwestern socialists just a few years ago.

–A Henry County, Georgia, 11-year-old had a gun pulled on him by a cop after neighbors complained that he and his fellow fifth-graders were endangering themselves and other people by building a treehouse. Sometime last week a neighbor in Omari Grant’s subdivision called Henry County police when they saw Grant and friends sawing off tree limbs in order to build a fort. One of the two as-yet-unnamed officers came on the scene and pulled a gun on the pack of tweens, frightening Grant, who said the cop also used profanity when speaking to the kids and made them lie on the ground, after which they were eventually all walked home by officers. The husband of the neighbor who called police was shocked by the treatment the kids received, and after the incident, Grant’s mother filed an excessive force complaint. Yet another reason to never call the cops unless your life is in danger—you never know what’s going to happen when they show up.

–On Thursday, a Baltimore school was locked down for four hours after students confused a college student with a tripod for a gunman. Students in KIPP Harmony Academy and KIPP Ujima Village Academy were put on lockdown at 9 AM, and Baltimore Police Department SWAT teams searched the building shared by the schools until they found the journalism student from the University of Maryland whose camera equipment had caused all the commotion. Caution might be better than Columbine-style negligence, but this sounds awfully paranoid.

–Readers who recall Deming, New Mexico, police officers’ propensity for repeated, baseless cavity searches may be pleased to learn that, thanks to the Pentagon’s 1033 Program, as of last week the Deming cops have a new $700,000, 12-man armored personnel carrier they got for free because it was military surplus. They earned it!

–Our Good Cop of the Week is the female military police officer who confronted the Fort Hood shooter, Ivan Lopez, without backup present. Lopez shot himself after the MP officer held him at gunpoint and “engaged.” There would likely be a few more dead soldiers if she* hadn’t been so quick and brave.

Lucy Steigerwald is a freelance writer and photographer. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter.

*Update 4/8: Article has been changed to correct a typo that resulted in us accidentally calling Ivan Lopez "quick and brave."