Why “Probably” Really Matters

probablyChuck Rosenberg, the new Drug Enforcement Administration chief, has finally made it clear: Marijuana is safer than heroin. He told reporters at the administration’s headquarters that “heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana,” clarifying a less definitive statement he made earlier when he said marijuana is “probably not” as dangerous as heroin.

The statement lines up with the science that has long been clear on the plant being one of the least dangerous recreationally used drugs. And while Rosenberg’s comments may initially seem benign, they represent a significant shift in the point of view of an agency that continues to classify marijuana as one of the “most dangerous” drugs, alongside heroin and LSD.

They also represent a departure from the former head of the drug agency, Michele Leonhart, who resigned earlier this year amid allegations that DEA agents partied with prostitutes in Colombia. She refused to acknowledge that marijuana might not be as unhealthy as harder drugs like heroin and crack.

Advocates for marijuana policy reform offered praise — and jeers — for Rosenberg’s new, clearer remarks.

“It’s sort of remarkable that a DEA chief simply saying heroin is more dangerous than marijuana could actually make news,” Ethan Nadelmann told HuffPost. Nadelmann is executive director Drug Policy Alliance, one of the world’s largest public policy organizations seeking the reform of marijuana laws.

“I guess that’s a reflection of how out of touch his predecessor was — that she couldn’t bring herself to simply state the obvious,” Nadelmann said.

Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for Marijuana Policy Project, said it’s great the DEA can finally acknowledge “what any rational person has known for years.”