DEA Selects New Acting Leader: How Will He Affect the Cannabis Industry?

It’s unclear whether the new acting head of the DEA has a particular policy stance regarding whether you should have legal access to medical or adult use marijuana.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has named its new acting chief — Robert W. Patterson. The career Special Agent is replacing former acting head Chuck Rosenberg, who stepped down last month due to what he cited were concerns over President Donald Trump’s inability to respect the law.

Patterson, whose career with the DEA began nearly 30 years ago, was appointed by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“The DEA plays a vital role in combatting the drug crisis facing this country.  Robert Patterson is currently the highest ranking career special agent at DEA, where he has ably served for almost 30 years,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “I have the highest confidence that Acting Administrator Patterson will continue the important mission of the DEA in stemming the tide of the opioid crisis.”

The U.S. is in the midst of a debilitating opioid epidemic, which is claiming the lives of nearly 100 Americans each day. Under Rosenberg, the DEA had been actively fighting the crisis by seeking prosecutors to hold accountable those who are facilitating addiction and proposing significant cuts to opioid drug production. It’s expected that Patterson will continue the agency’s efforts.

“Ending the unprecedented rise in deaths from drug overdoses is one of the Department of Justice’s highest priorities. I thank Acting Administrator Patterson for taking the helm of the DEA at this critical time,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in the release.

A White House Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, tasked with “studying ways to combat and treat the scourge of drug abuse, addiction, and the opioid crisis,” has urged the Trump administration to declare the epidemic a national emergency. The report also advocated for the development of non-opioid pain relievers.

Pain specialists and researchers have pushed for medical marijuana as a non-opioid pain relieving option, claiming it could be a safer alternative. Under federal law, marijuana remains illegal and classified as a controlled substance. Twenty-nine states have passed their own laws permitting the legal use of medical marijuana, and eight have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.

Attorney General Sessions has made it clear he’s a staunch opponent of legalizing cannabis at any level.

What Patterson’s appointment as acting head of the DEA will mean for your ability to legally obtain marijuana is yet to be known. The release did not mention whether Patterson has a particular policy stance toward cannabis. It did, however, describe Patterson as having “a reputation as an expert on transnational criminal networks, narcotics trafficking and trends, as well as governing policy and agency oversight matters.”

It’s unclear how long Patterson will serve as head of the DEA, nor whom the Justice Department is considering for the position permanently. Sometimes, acting administrators serve for long periods. Before resigning, Rosenberg served as acting administrator for more than two years. The agency has been without a permanent director since Michele Leonhart left the job of administrator in 2015.

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