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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a federal law enforcement agency under the United States Department of Justice, tasked with combating drug smuggling and use within the U.S. Not only is the DEA the lead agency for domestic enforcement of the drug policy of the United States sharing concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker, it also has sole responsibility for coordinating and pursuing U.S. drug investigations abroad.

History and mandate

Drug Enforcement Administration was established on 1 July 1973, by Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1973, signed by President Richard Nixon on 28 March 1973. It proposed the creation of a single federal agency to enforce the federal drug laws as well as consolidate and coordinate the government's drug control activities. Congress accepted the proposal, as they were concerned with the growing availability of drugs. As a result, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE), and other Federal offices merged together to create the DEA.

From the early 1970s, DEA headquarters was located at 1405 I ("Eye") Street NW in downtown Washington DCmarker. With the overall growth of the agency in the 1980s (owing to the increased emphasis on Federal drug law enforcement efforts) and a concurrent growth in the headquarters staff, DEA began to search for a new headquarters location; locations in Arkansasmarker, Mississippimarker, and various abandoned military bases around the U.S. were considered. However, then-Attorney General Edwin Meese determined that the headquarters had to be located in close proximity to the Attorney General's office. Thus, in 1989, the headquarters relocated to 600-700 Army-Navy Drive in the Pentagon Citymarker area of Arlington, Virginia, near the Metromarker station with the same name.

On 19 April 1995, Timothy McVeigh attacked the Alfred P.marker Murrah Federal Buildingmarker in Oklahoma Citymarker because it housed regional offices for the FBImarker, ATF, and DEA, all of which had carried out raids that he viewed as unjustified intrusions on the rights of the people; this attack caused the deaths of two DEA employees, one task force member, and two contractors in the Oklahoma City bombingmarker. Subsequently, the DEA headquarters complex was classified as a Level IV installation under United States federal building security standards, meaning it was to be considered a high-risk law enforcement target for terrorists. Security measures include hydraulic steel roadplates to enforce standoff distance from the building, metal detectors, and guard stations.

In 1999, the DEA opened the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum in Arlington, Virginiamarker. In February 2003, the DEA established a Digital Evidence Laboratory within its Office of Forensic Sciences.


The DEA is headed by an Administrator of Drug Enforcement appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The Administrator reports to the Attorney General through the Deputy Attorney General. The Administrator is assisted by a Deputy Administrator, the Chief of Operations, the Chief Inspector, and three Assistant Administrators (for the Operations Support, Intelligence, and Human Resources Divisions). Other senior staff include the Chief Financial Officer and the Chief Counsel. The Administrator and Deputy Administrator are the only Presidentially-appointed personnel in the DEA; all other DEA officials are career government employees. DEA's headquarters is located in Arlingtonmarker, Virginiamarker across from the Pentagonmarker. It maintains its own DEA Academy located on the United States Marine Corps base at Quanticomarker, Virginiamarker along with the FBI Academymarker. It maintains 21 domestic field divisions with 227 field offices and 86 foreign offices in 62 countries. With a budget exceeding 2.415 billion dollars, DEA employs over 10,800 people, including over 5,500 Special Agents.

Job applicants who have a history of hard drug use are excluded from consideration. Investigation usually includes a polygraph test for special agent, diversion investigator, and intelligence research specialist positions.

The DEA's relatively firm stance on this issue is in contrast to that of the Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker, which, in 2005, considered relaxing its hiring policy relevant to individual drug use history.

The DEA Aviation Division or Office of Aviation Operations (OA) (formerly Aviation Section) is an airborne division based in Fort Worth Alliance Airportmarker, Texas. The current OA fleet consists of 106 aircraft and 124 DEA pilots.

Mobile Enforcement Teams

Mobile Enforcement Teams (METs) are specialized squads designed as a support service dedicated to attacking and dismantling drug trafficking and urban violence in close cooperation with local authorities. METs are located throughout the United States in DEA's 21 field divisions. They often focus their efforts in rural and some smaller urban areas that are deficient in the law enforcement resources to combat organized drug gangs.

Foreign-deployed Advisory and Support Teams

In support of the Administration’s “Five Pillar Plan,” DEA initiated the Foreign-deployed Advisory and Support Teams. The first two FAST teams arrived in Afghanistan in April 2005. The FAST program directly improves the DEA’s work force and capabilities in Afghanistan increasing time spent with the NIU to identify, target, investigate, disrupt or dismantle transnational drug trafficking operations in the region. The FAST groups provide guidance to their Afghan counterparts, while conducting bilateral investigations aimed at the region’s trafficking organizations. The FAST groups, which are supported and largely funded by the Department of Defense, also help with the destruction of existing opium storage sites, clandestine heroin processing labs, and precursor chemical supplies directly related to our investigations.

The FAST groups, who received specialized training, will be deployed in Afghanistan, two groups at a time, and rotate every 120 days. The non rotating three groups remain at the DEA Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia, where they engage in training and provide operational support for the deployed teams in Afghanistan.

Impact on the drug trade

In 2005, the DEA seized a reported $1.4 billion in drug trade related assets and $477 million worth of drugs. However, according to the White House's Office of Drug Control Policy, the total value of all of the drugs sold in the U.S. is as much as $64 billion a year, making the DEA's efforts to intercept the flow of drugs into and within the U.S. less than 1% effective. Defenders of the agency's performance record argue that the DEA has had a positive effect beyond their relatively small annual seizures by placing pressure on traffickers, raising prices for consumers which may reduce the affordability of drugs .

Critics of this theory (including the Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman, prior to his death a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) point out that demand for illegal drugs shows little price sensitivity; the people who are buying drugs will continue to buy them with little regard to price, often turning to crime to support expensive drug habits when the drug prices rise. One recent study by the DEA showed that the price of cocaine and methamphetamine is the highest it has ever been while the quality of both is at its lowest point ever. This is contrary to a collection of data done by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which states that purity of street drugs has increased, while price has decreased. In sharp contrast to the statistics presented by the DEA, the United States Department of Justice released data in 2003 showing that purity of methamphetamine was on the rise. Ironically, this information was provided to the USDOJ by the DEA.

Narcotics registration

The DEA has a registration system in place which authorizes medical professionals, researchers and manufacturers access to "Schedule I" drugs, as well as Schedules 2, 3, 4 and 5. Authorized registrants apply for and, if granted, receive a "DEA number". An entity that has been issued a DEA number is authorized to manufacture (drug companies), distribute, research, prescribe (doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants) or dispense (physicians and pharmacy) a controlled substance.

Diversion control system

Many problems associated with drug abuse are the result of legitimately-manufactured controlled substances being diverted from their lawful purpose into the illicit drug traffic. Many of the narcotics, depressants and stimulants manufactured for legitimate medical use are subject to abuse, and have therefore been brought under legal control. The goal of controls is to ensure that these "controlled substances" are readily available for medical use, while preventing their distribution for illicit sale and abuse.

Under federal law, all businesses which manufacture or distribute controlled drugs, all health professionals entitled to dispense, administer or prescribe them, and all pharmacies entitled to fill prescriptions must register with the DEA. Registrants must comply with a series of regulatory requirements relating to drug security, records accountability, and adherence to standards.

All of these investigations are conducted by Diversion Investigators (DIs). DIs conduct investigations to uncover and investigate suspected sources of diversion and take appropriate civil and administrative actions.

MDMA DEA scheduling overturn

In 1985 MDMA and its analogues were under review by the American government as a drug for potential of abuse. During this time, several public hearings on the new drug were held by the DEA. Based on all of the evidence and facts presented at the time, the DEA's administrative law judge did not see MDMA and its analogues as being of large concern and recommended that they be placed in Schedule III. The DEA administrator, expressing concern for abuse potential, overruled the recommendation and ruled that MDMA be put in Schedule I, the Controlled Substances Act's most restrictive category.


Drug Enforcement Administration 25th Anniversary badge
The DEA has been criticized for placing highly restrictive schedules on a few drugs which researchers in the fields of pharmacology and medicine regard as having medical uses. Critics assert that some such decisions are motivated primarily by political factors stemming from the U.S. government's War on Drugs, and that many benefits of such substances remain unrecognized due to the difficulty of conducting scientific research. A counterpoint to that criticism is that under the Controlled Substances Act it is the Department of Health and Human Services (through the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse), not the DEA, which has the legal responsibility to make scientific and medical determinations with respect to drug scheduling; no drug can be scheduled if the Secretary of Health and Human Services recommends against it on a scientific or medical basis, and no drug can be placed in the most restrictive schedule (Schedule I) if DHHS finds that the drug has a currently accepted medical use. Jon Gettman's essay Science and the End of Marijuana Prohibition describes the DEA as "a fall guy to deflect responsibility from the key decision-makers" and opines, "HHS calls the shots when it comes to marijuana prohibition, and the cops at DEA and the general over at ONDCP take the heat."

The DEA is also criticized for focusing on the operations from which it can seize the most money, namely the organized cross-border trafficking of heroin and cocaine. Some individuals contemplating the nature of the DEA's charter advise that, based on order of popularity, the DEA should be most focused on marijuana. Others suggest that, based on opiate popularity, the DEA should focus much more on prescription opiates used recreationally, which critics contend is far more widespread than heroin use. Some scheduled substances are extremely rare, with no clear reason behind the scheduling of 4-Methyl-aminorex or bufotenine.

Others, such as the Cato Institute and the Drug Policy Alliance criticize the very existence of the DEA and the War on Drugs as both hostile, and contrary, to the concept of civil liberties by arguing that anybody should be free to put any substance they choose into their own bodies for any reason, particularly when legal drugs such as alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs are also open to abuse, and that any harm caused by a drug user or addict to the general public is a case of conflicting civil rights. Recurrently, billions of dollars are spent yearly, focusing largely on criminal law and demand reduction campaigns, which has resulted in the imprisonments of thousands of U.S. citizens. Demand for recreational drugs is somewhat static as the market for most illegal drugs has been saturated, forcing the cartels to expand their market to Europe and other areas than the United States. United States federal law currently registers cannabis as a Schedule I drug, yet it is common for illicit drugs such as cannabis to be widely available in most urban, suburban, and even rural areas in the United States, which leads drug legalization proponents to claim that drug laws, like most other laws, have little effect on those who choose not to obey them, and that the resources spent enforcing drug laws, as well as many other laws, are wasted. As it relates to the DEA specifically, the vast majority of individual arrests stemming from illegal drug possession and distribution are narrow and more local in scope and are made by local law enforcement officers, while the DEA tends to focus on larger, interstate and international distribution networks and the higher ranking members of such organizations in addition to operating in conjunction with other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies along U.S. borders.

Some groups advocate legalization of certain controlled substances under the premise that doing so may reduce the volume of illicit trafficking and associated crime as well as yield a valuable tax source, although some of the results of drug legalization have raised doubt about some of these beliefs. For example, marijuana is now available as a palliative agent, in Canadamarker, with a medical prescription. Yet 86% of Canadians with HIV/AIDS, eligible for a prescription, continue to obtain marijuana illegally (AIDS Care. 2007 Apr;19(4):500-6.) However, this could be due to the availability, and often the quality, of illegal cannabis compared to the procedural hoops a patient has to jump through whenever actually receiving it from the government.

The DEA was accused in 2005 by the Venezuelanmarker government of collaborating with drug traffickers, after which President Hugo Chávez decided to end any collaboration with the agency. In 2007, after the U.S.marker State Departmentmarker criticized Venezuela in its annual report on drug trafficking, the Venezuelan Minister of Justice reiterated the accusations: "A large quantity of drug shipments left the country through that organization,...[]..We were in the presence of a new drug cartel."

In the Netherlandsmarker, both the Dutch government and the DEA have been criticized for violations of Dutch sovereignty in drug investigations. According to Peter R. de Vries, a Dutch journalist present at the 2005 trial of Henk Orlando Rommy, the DEA has admitted to activities on Dutch soil. Earlier, then minister of justice Piet Hein Donner, had denied to the Dutch parliament that he had given permission to the DEA for any such activities, which would have been a requirement by Dutch law in order to allow foreign agents to act within the territory.

Raids on medical marijuana dispensaries

People protesting medical marijuana raids

The DEA has taken a particularly strong stance on enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act on persons and organizations acting within State Laws that allow Medical Cannabis cultivation and distribution.

"The people of California and the County of Santa Cruz have overwhelmingly supported the provision of medical marijuana for people who have serious illnesses," county Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt told the San Francisco Gate. "These people (blocking the road) are people with AIDS and cancer and other grave illnesses. To attack these people, who work collectively and have never taken money for their work, is outrageous."

Despite the fact that the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana has never bought or sold marijuana, the DEA still raided the collective of terminally ill patients.

As a result, the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, with the City and County of Santa Cruz, has sued the DEA, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and the ONDCP. The most recent court decision rejected the government's motion to dismiss, which allows discovery to move forward. The ACLU hailed the decision as "a first-of-its-kind ruling."

More recently, the DEA has escalated its enforcement efforts on the recently-proliferated Los Angeles area medical cannabis collectives.

On July 25, 2007, the DEA raided the California Patients Group and Hollywood Compassionate Collective in Hollywood, CA. Earlier that day, the operators of those collectives participated in a press conference with LA City Councilmembers announcing the City's intention to regulate the collectives and asking the DEA to halt raids on collectives while the City drafted regulations.


This table lists all Administrators of the DEA, their dates of service, and under which administration they served.

Administrator Term Administration
John R. Bartels, Jr. 1973–1975 Nixon, Ford
Peter B. Bensinger 1976–1981 Ford, Carter, Reagan
Francis M. Mullen 1981–1985 Reagan
John C. Lawn 1985–1990 Reagan, G.H.W. Bush
Robert C. Bonner 1990–1993 G.H.W. Bush, Clinton
Stephen H. Greene 1993–1994 Clinton
Thomas A. Constantine 1994–1999 Clinton
Donnie R. Marshall 1999–2001 Clinton, G.W. Bush
Asa Hutchinson 2001–2003 G.W. Bush
Karen Tandy 2003–2007 G.W. Bush
Michele Leonhart (Acting) 2007– G.W. Bush, Obama

See also


  5. Figure 4 Source: ONDCP. 1998 National Drug Control Strategy. Table 20.
  6. Figure 5 Source: ONDCP. 1998 National Drug Control Strategy. Table 20.
  7. Lies, Damn Lies and Drug War Statistics at Google Books
  9., 24 MDMA, Chorles S. Grob and Russell E Polond
  10. Video Documentary: "Hooked - Illegal Drugs and How They Got That Way: LSD, Ecstasy and Raves",The History Channel
  11.,"Documents from the DEA Scheduling Hearing of MDMA, 1984-1988"
  12. Millennium Marijuana March
  13. ,Policing for Profit: The Drug War's Hidden Economic Agenda
  14.,US Department of Justice
  16.,Feds Raid 11 Medical Marijuana Clinics, DEA Does Not Recognize California Law Legalizing Medical Use Of Pot
  20. From July 1981 - November 1983, Mullen served as Acting Administrator. He was nominated by President Ronald Reagan on 21 January 1982, confirmed by the U.S. Senate on 30 September 1983, and sworn in as Administrator on 10 November 1983.
  21. From March - July 1985, Lawn served as Acting Administrator. He was nominated by President Reagan on 4 April 1985, confirmed by the U.S. Senate on 16 July 1985, and sworn in as Administrator on 26 July 1985.
  22. From July 1999 - June 2000, Marshall served as Acting Administrator.

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