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The DEA's new boss says heroin is probably more dangerous than marijuana

This is a big change from his predecessor's stance

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Acting DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg has acknowledged that marijuana is "probably not" as dangerous as heroin, a concession that's almost revelatory given the hardline stance of his predecessors. "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," Rosenberg said Tuesday morning, adding that he's "not an expert." He also confirmed that the agency is going to focus on what he termed "the biggest and most important cases," which typically involve opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamines.

Of course, stating that marijuana probably isn't as dangerous as heroin is like saying ceiling fans probably aren't as loud as jet engines. Recent studies have confirmed that marijuana is much less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, never mind hard substances like cocaine or heroin. The DEA may still be far behind the science on marijuana’s effects, but Rosenberg's comments still show some small progress at the agency. His predecessor, Michele Leonhart, was almost fanatical in her opposition to marijuana as the agency's administrator, and her opposition remained steadfast despite increasing acceptance of the drug's recreational use.

Leonhart's views were becoming outmoded

The signature moment of her tenure came shortly after President Obama expressed his views on legalization in an interview with The New Yorker. The president gave his support to state-level legalization and claimed that marijuana was less harmful than alcohol on an individual basis. Leonhart quickly contradicted those views in a speech to a sheriffs' association. A few months later, another wave of states voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Leonhart resigned in May, leaving in the wake of a poorly handled sex scandal and criticism regarding her stance on legalization. And while Rosenberg's open mind is refreshing, this progress could prove temporary — the agency's direction regarding marijuana policy will likely depend on the stance of whoever becomes the next president.

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