The Drug Enforcement Administration's leader reportedly contradicted President Barack Obama's views on marijuana during a "closed-door" speech Wednesday and denounced White House staff for playing softball against a team of marijuana activists.
DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart's candor about her boss and his staff didn't stay quiet for long.
Key details about Leonhart's speech at the closed-to-the-press annual winter meeting of the Major County Sheriffs' Association in Washington, D.C., were reported Saturday by the Boston Herald.
"She was particularly frustrated with the fact that, according to her, the White House participated in a softball game with a pro-legalization group," Bristol County, Mass., Sheriff Thomas Hodgson told the Herald.
Leonhart spoke to the sheriffs less than a week after The New Yorker published an exclusive interview with Obama, in which he said marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and that "it's important for [legalization] to go forward" in Colorado and Washington, whose residents voted in November 2012 to allow recreational use of the drug. White House spokesman Jay Carney quickly said Obama's comments did not reflect any change in his personal position or governmental policy.
"To have the president of the United States publicly say marijuana was a bad habit like alcohol was appalling to everyone in that room," Kern County, Calif., Sheriff Donny Youngblood told the Herald. "I think the way that [Leonhart] felt was that it was a betrayal of what she does for the American people in enforcing our drug laws. ... She got a standing ovation."
Leonhart served as acting administrator of the DEA from 2007-2010, until Obama appointed her to officially take over the anti-drug agency.
DEA spokespeople are neither confirming nor denying Leonhart's reported comments.
"I wasn't there and can't comment on what she said," DEA spokesman Rusty Payne tells U.S. News, "[but] it shouldn't be a surprise that we're not for drug legalization. ... That's been consistent forever, so I don't know if this is anything new or surprising."
DEA spokeswoman Dawn Deardon gave the same answer to the Herald.
Payne says he hasn't seen a transcript of Leonhart's speech and hasn't been instructed to correct any reported details from her address.
"It was a closed-door type thing," Payne says.
A spokesman for the Major County Sheriffs' Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Although the sheriffs seem to have appreciated Leonhart's candor, it remains to be seen if the White House will.
"She was honest," Hughes County, S.D., Sheriff Mike Leidholt told the Herald. "She may get fired. But she was honest."
The Marijuana Policy Project, a prominent pro-legalization organization, called on Obama to fire Leonhart for insubordination Monday. The group also kicked off a Change.org petition drive seeking her removal from office.
"Whether Ms. Leonhart is ignorant of the facts or intentionally disregarding them, she is clearly unfit for her current position," Dan Riffle, MPP's director of federal policies, said in a statement. "The DEA administrator's continued refusal to recognize marijuana's relative safety compared to alcohol and other drugs flies in the face of the president's commitment to prioritizing science over ideology and politics. She is neglecting the basic obligations of her job and fundamentally undermining her employer's mission. This would be grounds for termination in the private sector, and the consequences for Ms. Leonhart should be no different."
MPP staff are members of the "One Hitters" softball team, along with staff from Americans for Safe Access, the Drug Policy Alliance and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. The pro-pot softball team smoked White House staff twice, winning 25-3 in June 2012 and 5-2 in June 2013.