Groups Seek DEA Review, Cite ‘Failed Drug War’

By Hilary Corrigan
Jun 26, 2020

Cannabis advocacy and civil rights groups have backed Congressmembers’ calls to rein in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The groups also want a review of the agency.

“A critical look at the DEA and the nation’s law-enforcement priorities is long overdue,” states a Wednesday letter addressed to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary. “For over 45 years, the DEA has stretched its mandate, fueling mass incarceration and racial inequity with insufficient scrutiny.”

The letter comes a day after the committee heard testimony from a Justice Department prosecutor who said U.S. Attorney General William Barr had sought reviews of marijuana industry mergers because he did not like the nature of their underlying business.

The letter from the Drug Policy Alliance, NORML, American Civil Liberties Union and several other organizations calls for Congress to hold an oversight hearing to examine “DEA’s pattern and practice of misusing appropriated funds.”


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‘Questionable enforcement practices’

Last month, DEA sought and received temporary authority from the Deputy U.S. Attorney General to enforce federal criminal laws, not just drug-related ones, in the wake of national protests over police brutality. DEA said it planned to do surveillance; share intelligence with other agencies; intervene at protests; and do interviews and searches; and make arrests.

Members of Congress quickly raised concerns over DEA’s powers and history.

A letter early this month from Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.) cited problems at DEA. It specifically noted the agency’s large number of marijuana-related arrests.

The Wednesday letter from the coalition of organizations agreed. With more than 10,000 workers and a $3.1B budget, the DEA is the world’s largest such agency, the groups argued. But recent DEA actions have nothing to do with the agency’s mission, they said.

“Instead, the administration is unilaterally diverting funds to conduct surveillance of protests that have nothing to do with drug enforcement,” the groups stated. They decried “failed drug war policies” and the “unjustified use of federal resources” to surveil Americans. They also questioned the legality of the move, saying the attorney general lacks “unfettered discretion” to use DEA resources for general investigations not related to drugs.

The letter criticizes DEA over “a history of questionable enforcement practices, alleged human rights abuses” and various other complaints. It asks for a hearing on DEA at the House Committee on the Judiciary. Nadler serves as that committee’s chairman and Bass is a subcommittee chairwoman.