New DEA Chief: Pot 'Probably Not' as Dangerous as Heroin
But 'I'm no expert,' Chuck Rosenberg adds
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 29, 2015 12:36 PM CDT
Chuck Rosenberg in 2007 at the Justice Department in Washington.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(Newser) – Marijuana advocates celebrated when DEA head Michele Leonhart stepped down, with a rep for the Marijuana Policy Project telling Bloomberg, that Leonhart held up an era of "Reefer Madness" at the DEA and "maintained an opinion about marijuana akin to the opinion people had back in the '30s." Yet no one's been sure where her replacement, Chuck Rosenberg, stands on marijuana reform—until yesterday, when he announced he wouldn't be prioritizing pot busts during his tenure, though that doesn't mean he's a cannabis fan. "If you want me to say that marijuana's not dangerous, I'm not going to say that because I think it is," he said in a conference call, per US News & World Report. "Do I think it's as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I'm not an expert."

To further clarify his stance on the drugs—both still listed as Schedule 1 substances with "high potential for abuse"—Rosenberg added, "Let me say it this way: I'd rather be in a car accident going 30 miles an hour than 60 miles an hour, but I'd prefer not to be in a car accident at all." He maintained that agents have to prioritize enforcement efforts, and "typically it's heroin, opioids, meth, and cocaine in roughly that order, and marijuana tends to come in at the back of the pack"; he added, though, that "we are not going to shy away from ... marijuana cases where appropriate." US News calls his statements "seemingly unremarkable" and "cautiously made," but Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, a pot-legalization advocate, tells the magazine, "That's a great improvement over the previous administrator, who was incapable of distinguishing heroin from marijuana. The real question that one day will be asked and correctly answered is: Is marijuana a more dangerous drug than alcohol?"