DEA Chief Announces Retirement

The cannabis industry reacts to Robert Patterson’s retirement and hopes for a pro-cannabis replacement who will move federal marijuana policy reform forward.

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June 21, 2018
Melissa Schiller

Robert Patterson, the current acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), has announced that he is retiring at the end of the month.

Patterson has worked at the DEA for 30 years and has been the DEA Chief since October, when Chuck Rosenberg resigned after disagreements with Attorney General Jeff Sessions over marijuana research policy. Patterson has said that running the agency as a temporary replacement has become “increasingly challenging,” according to a Washington Post report.

“I am not surprised,” said David Kram, founder and CEO of cannabis brand Silk Road. “It’s a crucial moment for drug policy in this country. The current administration’s stance on cannabis is at odds with the wishes of the American people and it’s time that the DEA established progressive drug policy that better aligns with these views. It’s clear that legalization has enough momentum, the only question is, when will the government finally decide to act on it?”

A few weeks ago, the DEA released an internal directive on the presence of cannabinoids in products and materials made from the cannabis plant, stating that “the mere presence of cannabinoids is not itself dispositive as to whether a substance is within the scope of the CSA.” Arnaud Dumas de Rauly, co-founder and co-CEO, of The Blinc Group, a distribution-centric vapor and cannabis incubator, wonders whether there has been pushback or pressure on Patterson following that announcement.

“Also, Patterson has stated in the past that ‘The reason why [cannabis] remains in Schedule I is the science,’” Dumas de Rauly said. “The lack of federally approved grow facilities—the Justice Department, headed by Jeff Sessions, hasn't approved any of the more than two dozen proposals for new grow sites—makes gaining access to cannabis to run clinical trials exceptionally challenging thus impending the DEA's ability to change its stance.”

Patterson sent an email to employees Monday afternoon to announce his retirement, saying that he “realized that the administrator of the DEA needs to decide and address priorities for years into the future—something which has become increasingly challenging in an acting capacity,” according to The Washington Post.

It is not clear who will replace Patterson as head of the DEA, but the cannabis industry is no doubt hopeful that it will gain an ally with the next appointee.

“We hope that the new chief of the DEA will adhere to the dictates of Congress and treat hemp derivatives such as CBD as viable nutritional ingredients that deserve to be nowhere near the Controlled Substances Act,” said Lex Pelger, science director of Bluebird Botanicals, a hemp extract company.

“I would like to see a DEA chief that finally understands cannabis and focuses instead on the dangerous and addictive Schedule I drugs that actually belong on that list,” agreed Danny Davis, managing partner of Convectium, a provider of technology, infrastructure and automation to the cannabis industry. “We have come too far as a country—even President Trump is now saying he will support a bipartisan bill for state cannabis rights—to let another misinformed conservative stop the inevitable.”

Photo courtesy of the Drug Enforcement Administration