Marijuana activists are calling on President Barack Obama to fire Drug Enforcement Administration leader Michele Leonhart for insubordination after she denounced the president's opinion that marijuana is less dangerous to consume than alcohol.
Some law enforcement leaders are rushing to Leonhart's defense, but two congressmen who favor reforming marijuana laws tell U.S. News they are fed up with the DEA administrator.
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., says in his dealings with Leonhart he has "found her to be completely incompetent and unknowledgeable."
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., says for Leonhart, "the honorable thing to do would be to assume a Japanese posture and resign," referring to self-imposed accountability for failure by corporate and political leaders in Japan.
"The fact that she was hired was a mistake, the fact that she contradicted the president was a mistake and insubordination," Cohen says. "If he terminated her it would be appropriate."
Both Polis and Cohen tried – and failed – to get Leonhart to say during a June 2012 committee hearing that marijuana is less harmful than crack or heroin. She told Polis such a comparison would be "subjective" and told Cohen marijuana was an "insidious" drug.
The next DEA administrator "ought to be in tune with what the president believes, which is that marijuana is no worse than alcohol," Cohen says. "This is going to be looked upon in 10 or 20 years as the dark ages and it is the dark ages - we have someone who needs corrective vision surgery."
Leonhart served as acting administrator of the DEA from 2007 to 2010, when she was appointed by Obama as administrator and confirmed by the Senate.
Obama told The New Yorker in an interview published days before Leonhart's Jan. 22 speech, "I don't think [marijuana] is more dangerous than alcohol." He said marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer."
Leonhart condemned the president's remarks – as well as White House staff playing softball after-hours with a team of pro-pot activists – during a speech at the annual meeting of the Major County Sheriffs' Association in Washington, D.C., the Boston Herald first reported Saturday.
Fewer than 100 people were in the room for Leonhart's speech, MCSA President Donny Youngblood tells U.S. News.
Youngblood says "her talk was inspiring" because "law enforcement across the country were shocked by the president's comments. We all felt it was irresponsible."
Leonhart's speech "was very well-received by the sheriffs," says Youngblood, the sheriff of Kern County, Calif. "I think she's a pretty savvy lady. ... It should not [result in her firing]."
Spokespeople for the DEA will neither confirm nor deny Leonhart's reported remarks, in which she also reportedly said the lowest point in her 33-year career was when a hemp flag flew above the U.S. Capitol on July 4. The Capitol Flag Office raised that flag following a request from Polis.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment on Leonhart's remarks.
The Marijuana Policy Project launched a Change.org petition Monday calling for Obama to fire Leonhart. As of Wednesday, it had received more than 20,000 signatures.
The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association leapt to Leonhart's defense Tuesday, saying in a press release MPP members – "perhaps while under the influence of a mind altering substance" – decided to "trample on the Administrator's freedom of speech – a Constitutional right – while trumpeting their new-found Colorado freedom to get high in public and spread the stench of their smoke."