The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sought and received new temporary authority from the Deputy Attorney General to enforce laws in the wake of protests, Buzzfeed reported this week.
In a DEA memo, DEA notes that it only has power to enforce federal drug-related crimes. The agency asks for the ability to enforce any federal crimes committed as a result of protests over the death of George Floyd. DEA plans to do covert surveillance; share intelligence with other agencies; intervene to protect participants and spectators at protests; do interviews and searches and make arrests.
NORML sounded a warning with an emailed notice from its political director, Justin Strekal.
“Given the DEA’s long track record as an overzealous, ideologically driven agency, this rapid expansion of its policing authority should be discomforting to us all. The DEA has long misused its drug enforcement powers, and especially its powers to enforce federal marijuana prohibition, to target dissident groups and populations of color,” Strekal wrote.
Strekal reminded those protesting that marijuana possession and use remains a federal crime.
“The DEA possesses the power to strictly enforce these violations of law. Because we know that the DEA is playing a more prominent role in surveilling these activities and taking law enforcement actions, NORML reminds anyone participating in these events to refrain from the possession or use of cannabis while doing so,” Strekal wrote.
National Cannabis Industry Association Spokesperson Morgan Fox wrote in an email that DEA’s move was “extremely concerning but not surprising, given the history of using prohibition to criminalize political dissidents and people of color. These expanded powers give DEA the ability to not only step outside their role to assist overzealous reactions to peaceful protests, but provide a way to charge those people with federal possession if they happen to be carrying cannabis, even legally, despite not breaking any other laws.”