Lawmakers demand acting DEA chief's ouster after he calls medical marijuana 'a joke'

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers say the acting DEA chief’s dismissal of medical marijuana as ‘a joke’ is no laughing matter -- and they want him out of the job.

Chuck Rosenberg, who came on as the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration after embattled head Michele Leonhart resigned in May, told reporters on Nov. 4 that calling marijuana a medicine is “a joke,” and that smoking marijuana “has never been shown to be safe or effective as a medicine.”

"What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal -- because it’s not,” he said.

Currently, some 23 states and the District of Columbia disagree, having medical marijuana laws on the books allowing for the use of pot to treat a range of ailments and illnesses, including chronic pain, glaucoma, muscle spasms, seizures, and to counter appetite loss in cancer and HIV/AIDS patients. Another 17 states have approved measures that allow the use of cannabinoids, the chemical compound found in the pot plant, for medicinal purposes.

Seven lawmakers signed a letter delivered to the White House Thursday, telling President Obama that “Mr. Rosenberg is not the right person to lead the DEA.” The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and included signer Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who has been fighting for medical marijuana acceptance in congress for over a decade. While four states and D.C. have fully legalized pot, and scores of states have decriminalized it, marijuana, including the use of it for medicine, remains illegal at the federal level.

President Obama, however, has directed his Justice Department to take a largely hands-off approach to medical marijuana and pot as a whole in states that have legalized it. He removed longstanding barriers to streamlining federal medical marijuana research this summer.

The lawmakers said that for millions of Americans, medical marijuana is serious business. Entire families have moved thousands of miles to legal states like Colorado to help treat their children suffering from crippling diseases like epilepsy, for example.

“There is no doubt in my mind that my son Jagger is still alive today because of medical cannabis," said Sebastien Cotte, who helped deliver a petition to the DEA Friday with a group of medical marijuana patients and caregivers. The petition, hosted online by, also calls for Rosenberg’s replacement. It had over 101,000 signatures Friday afternoon.

"Cannabis has tremendously decreased the pain and seizures caused by his mitochondrial disease, while improving his quality of life. For our family, that’s no joke,” she added.

“Mr. Rosenberg’s statements send a clear signal to the American people that the federal government isn’t listening to them. It erodes trust,” the lawmaker’s letter reads. “Cavelier statements like these fly in the face of state policy and the experience of millions of patients.”

On Friday, the DEA clarified Rosenberg’s remarks in a statement sent to

“We've been trying to make clear that Acting Administrator Rosenberg indicated that marijuana should be subject to the same levels of approval and scrutiny as any other substance intended for use as a medicine,” the DEA said.

“In fact, DEA supports efforts to research potential medical uses of marijuana. To this end, DEA has never denied a registration request from anyone conducting marijuana research using FDA approved protocols.  Acting Administrator Rosenberg has also been clear to point out there are a number of marijuana components and/or extracts which appear to show promise as medicines, but have not yet been approved as safe and effective.”

This is not how the lawmakers interpreted Rosenberg's comments, rather, they charge, “the only reason there are remaining doubts about the safety and effectiveness of marijuana, or questions about the proper applications of extracts or component parts, is because federal policies have routinely hampered medical marijuana research for decades.”

In May, a Harris Poll found that some 81 percent of Americans supported the legalization of medical marijuana. Furthermore, according to the most recent Gallup Poll, 58 percent of Americans now think marijuana would be fully legal.

Kelley Vlahos contributed to this report.