End the DEA

The DEA is a bloated, wasteful, scandal-ridden bureaucracy charged with the impossible task of keeping humans from doing something they’ve been doing for thousands of years – altering their consciousness.

As states legalize marijuana, reform sentencing laws, and treat drug use more as a health issue and less as a criminal justice issue, the DEA must change with the times. Federal drug enforcement should focus on large cases that cross international and state boundaries, with an exclusive focus on violent traffickers and major crime syndicates. All other cases should be left to the states.

The DEA has existed for more than 40 years, but little attention has been given to the role the agency has played in fueling mass incarceration, racial disparities and other drug war problems. Congress has rarely scrutinized the agency, its actions or its budget, instead deferring to DEA Administrators on how best to deal with drug-related issues.

The failure to exercise oversight over one of the most powerful enforcement agencies in the world has led to disaster, including questionable enforcement practices; numerous scandals and human rights abuses; and open defiance of statutory requirements requiring decisions be based on scientific evidence. 

“The manifest failure of drug prohibition explains why more and more people - from Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke to Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, conservative columnist William F. Buckley Jr., and former secretary of state George Shultz - have argued that drug prohibition actually causes more crime and other harms than it prevents.”- David Boaz, executive vice president, Cato Institute

The Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General is currently investigating numerous DEA scandals, including the massacre of civilians in Honduras, the use of NSA data to both spy on virtually all Americans and to systematically fabricate evidence, and vast corruption in the use of confidential informants. A series of recent investigations found that the DEA has been tracking billions of U.S. phone calls without suspicion of wrong-doing since 1987, an operation copied by the NSA and other agencies after 9/11, making the DEA a key player in building the modern surveillance state.

The agency has a long history of disregarding science. It obstructed a formal request to reschedule marijuana for 16 years. After being forced by the courts to make a decision, the agency declared marijuana to have no medical value, despite massive evidence to the contrary. The agency’s own administrative law judge held two years of hearings and concluded marijuana in its natural form is “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man” and should be made available for medical use. Similar hearings on MDMA (“Ecstasy,” “molly”) concluded it has important medical uses, but the DEA again overruled its own administrative law judge.

Drug Policy Alliance has visibly and vocally called for an end of the DEA as we know it and continues to pressure the federal government to champion science over politics-as-usual. Drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue; with states legalizing marijuana and adopting other drug policy reforms, it’s time to ask if the agency is even needed any longer.

End the DEA