Cannabis Industry Reacts to DEA Chief Chuck Rosenberg’s Resignation

Cannabis Industry Reacts to DEA Chief Chuck Rosenberg’s Resignation

While some welcome his departure, others worry if Rosenberg’s successor will crack down on federal marijuana restrictions.

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October 6, 2017
Melissa Schiller
News Politics

The DEA is looking for a new leader.

Chuck Rosenberg, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has resigned effective Oct. 1, sparking mixed reactions from the marijuana industry about his departure and raising questions about his successor.

While some in the cannabis industry viewed Rosenberg as supportive of cannabis reform, others believe he hindered the progress of marijuana research and federal legalization.

“This is bad. Rosenberg represented a level-headed approach to drug policy and the law even if he didn’t personally understand medicinal cannabis,” said Danny Davis, managing partner of Convectium. “Unlike the other impulsive and irrational members of this current administration, he continually pushed to increase research on the plant and agrees it is not like other Schedule I drugs. If current appointees are any indication of future ones, this may not sit well for the cannabis community.”

Rosenberg was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2015, and served twice as chief of staff to former FBI director James Comey, according to a New York Times report. Law enforcement officials said the former DEA chief became disillusioned with the Trump administration, claiming the president has little respect for the law, per the New York Times.

Rosenberg rejected President Trump’s statement to law enforcement in July to “please don’t be too nice” when handling crime suspects, the New York Times reports, and sent an email to all DEA employees, telling them that they should not mistreat suspects. At the end of July, Rosenberg told Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein that he did not want to be considered as the permanent administrator of the DEA, per the New York Times.

In a message to DEA employees on Sept. 26, Rosenberg told staff members of his resignation, saying, “The neighborhoods in which we live are better for your commitment to the rule of law, dedication to the cause of justice and perseverance in the face of adversity.”

“You will continue to do great things,” he continued. “I will continue to root for you, now from the sidelines.”

Rosenberg had been at odds with Justice Department leaders over cannabis research, The Washington Post reported, and was disappointed in the department’s decision to block the DEA from taking action on several requests to grow marijuana for research purposes.

“Acting DEA Chief Chuck Rosenberg’s resignation will most likely push the cannabis industry into more unfriendly territory,” said Jamie Schau, senior analyst at Brightfield Group. “Though never a strong advocate of the substance—Rosenberg was quoted calling medical marijuana a ‘joke’ in 2015—during his two-year tenure, the acting DEA Chief has followed former president Obama’s counsel that federal prosecutors refrain from targeting marijuana operations in states that have legalized cannabis, and has attempted to permit more research on cannabis despite pushback from the DOJ.”

Schau sees two ways that Rosenberg’s position may be filled: either he will be replaced with someone inexperienced but who is pro-cannabis and can resist Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ attempts toward federal intervention into state-legal marijuana businesses, or his replacement will be nominated by President Trump and be more open to Sessions’ push to crack down on cannabis operations.

“If this is the case, states will lose one more barrier to DOJ intervention, making marijuana operations much more vulnerable to federal interference and prosecution—a massive step backwards for the industry,” she said.

In contrast, Co-Founder of Ananda Hemp John Ryan said Rosenberg's memo on CBD hindered the legal development of the hemp industry in the U.S., and his legacy will be denying the medicinal benefits of marijuana.

“The next head of the DEA now has the responsibility to bridge the gap between outdated policy and public opinion so we can grow the next great American industry," he said.

“The resignation of a man who referred to medicinal cannabis as ‘a joke’ is a welcome one, although it comes with potential perils,” commented Jeffrey M. Zucker, president of Green Lion Partners.

Zucker said the next DEA Chief could have a major impact on the industry, which is anxious to see who his replacement will be and his or her position on marijuana.

“It's a prudent time to appoint someone who acknowledges scientific facts and understands the damages and vast impact of the Drug War and why it isn't working,” Zucker said.

It is not clear who will replace Rosenberg, although some with knowledge of internal discussions said Col. Joseph R. Fuentes, the head of the New Jersey State Police, may be a leading candidate, according to The Washington Post. Whoever the president nominates will be responsible for handling the DEA’s response to the nation’s opioid crisis, as well as marijuana enforcement and research, per The Washington Post.

“It remains to be seen what, if any, impact Mr. Rosenberg’s resignation will have on patients and the legal medical marijuana industry,” said Bryan Meltzer, partner at Feuerstein Kulick.

He said that although many believe that Rosenberg was more supportive of medical marijuana research than the DOJ, his past ideas about about medical marijuana have not been friendly.

“If anything, the uncertainty surrounding his resignation demonstrates the continued need for Congress to act on the sensible legislation that has been introduced by members of both parties, including legislation that would require the federal government to respect states’ rights,” Meltzer said.

Top Image: Chuck Rosenberg. Photo courtesy of the Drug Enforcement Administration.