New DEA chief aims to enforce medical marijuana ban |

New DEA chief aims to enforce medical marijuana ban

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) – The new chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration said Monday he would strive to enforce the federal ban on medical marijuana.

Speaking to reporters on his first official day on the job, Asa Hutchinson – an Arkansas Republican who gave up a House seat to take the DEA job – said he would try to ”send the right signal.”

Federal law prohibits the sale of marijuana for medical uses. Some states, however, let patients use marijuana for such purposes.

”The question is how do you address that from an enforcement standpoint,” he said. ”You’re not going to tolerate a violation of law, but at the same time there are a lot of different relationships, a lot of different aspects that we have to consider as we develop that enforcement policy.”

Hutchinson said rehabilitation and prevention programs will be emphasized under his leadership.

”Mr. Downey Jr. in California … has gone through rehab because it started with a law enforcement procedure,” said Hutchinson, referring to the actor Robert Downey Jr., a repeat drug offender who was ordered to undergo rehabilitation in July under a new state law that stresses treatment over punishment for substance abusers.

Hutchinson said he is an advocate of drug courts that allow nonviolent first time offenders to receive treatment and counseling rather than jail time. Regarding the new California law, Hutchinson said he is concerned that there is no drug testing component to the state program.

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Washington allow sick people to receive, possess, grow or smoke marijuana for medical purposes without fear of state prosecution. Those states have done little to change their statutes since the Supreme Court ruled federal law prohibits people from dispensing marijuana to the ill, saying it’s up to federal authorities to enforce the court’s decision.

Hutchinson, a former federal prosecutor who served as a House prosecutor in former President Clinton’s impeachment trial, said the scientific and medical communities have thus far determined there is no legitimate medical use for marijuana.

”If they continue to study it, we will listen to them,” he said. ”You have to listen to the medical community in terms of what is legitimate pain medication versus that which is simply a guise for a different agenda.”

Speaking moments before his swearing-in ceremony at DEA headquarters, Hutchinson said his priorities would be to continue working with state and local law enforcement organizations to fight drug crime, to strengthen ties with international law enforcement agencies to combat drug smuggling and to step up use of technology to ”stay ahead of drug traffickers.”

Acknowledging the tough road ahead, Hutchinson said he was encouraged that in the last 15 years, cocaine use has fallen by 75 percent. But he said acknowledged there was a ”sense that our efforts are not as fruitful as we’d like them to be.”

On other issues, Hutchinson said:

-The U.S. government should continue supporting Colombia’s fight against drug smugglers.

-Education and demand reduction would be as important as law enforcement at the DEA under his leadership.

-Mandatory minimum sentencing laws have proved effective in combatting drug crime, but judges should have some discretion in sentencing decisions.

-He would consider improvements to DEA’s supervision of paid informants, including the creation of a central registry to keep track of how they are used.

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