Members of Congress grilled the ONDCP representative at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and slammed the office for failing to acknowledge key facts about marijuana. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) chided the Drug Czar’s office for relying on marijuana “propaganda,” and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) criticized the office for failing to address the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s obstruction of research into the medical benefits of marijuana.
Incredibly, during his testimony regarding the Obama Administration’s marijuana policy, ONDCP Deputy Director Michael Botticelli refused to acknowledge that marijuana poses less potential harm to the consumer than heroin or methamphetamine.
Botticelli defended policies that committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) called “fractured” and “schizophrenic,” claiming the Administration is dedicated to treating cannabis as a public health issue rather than a law enforcement matter. That statement was questioned by other members of Congress who pointed to the 750,000 arrests made each year and billions of dollars spent every year on law enforcement.
The most heated exchange, however, came after Botticelli refused to answer questions about marijuana’s relative safety as compared with cocaine, methamphetamine and tobacco, all of which are less stringently regulated under the Controlled Substances Act than marijuana (nicotine, a legal drug, does not appear on the schedule).
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) commented that despite Botticelli’s talk of educational programs, until he was able to speak about the real harms of drugs rather than spouting inaccurate propaganda, children would not hear the message. He then opined whether a friend who had died of a heroin overdose would still be alive if he had received real education on the dangers of the drug.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) went even further, calling ONDCP’s refusal to realistically discuss drug use “part of the problem.”
Deputy Drug Czar Admits Marijuana Safer Than Alcohol
“How many people die from marijuana overdoses every year?” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) asked Botticelli, reports Eric W. Dolan at The Raw Story. “I don’t know that I know. It is very rare,” Botticelli replied.“‘Very rare.’ Now just contrast that with prescription drugs, unintentional deaths from prescription drugs, one American dies every 19 minutes,” Rep. Connolly said. “Nothing comparable to marijuana. Is that correct?” Botticelli had to admit that was true.
“Alcohol — hundreds of thousands of people die every year from alcohol-related deaths: automobile, liver disease, esophogeal cancer, blood poisoning,” Rep. Connolly continued. “Is that incorrect?”
Botticelli refused to answer, claiming the “totality of harm” associated with cannabis made it a dangerous drug, even if it isn’t associated with deaths.
“I guess I’m sticking with the President — the head of your administration — who is making a different point,” Rep. Connolly said. “He is making a point that is empirically true. That isn’t a normative statement, that marijuana is good or bad, but he was contrasting it with alcohol and empirically he is correct, is he not?”
Botticelli tried again to avoid answering the question, but Rep. Connolly interrupted him, telling him to answer.
“Is it not scientific fact that there is nothing comparable with marijuana?” Connolly asked. “And I’m not saying it is good or bad, but when we look at deaths and illnesses, alcohol, other hard drugs are certainly — even prescription drugs — are a threat to public health in a way that just isolated marijuana is not. Isn’t that a scientific fact Or do you dispute that fact?”
“I don’t dispute that fact,” Botticelli admitted.
Drug Czar’s Office Doesn’t Have Its Facts Straight
“I don’t think people should smoke marijuana,” said Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) executive director Major Neill Franklin (Ret.). “Every drug – including those you get from your doctor – has real harms. But if you educate people about those harms and how to minimize them, you diminish their impact and ensure that your warnings will be heeded.
“Part of the ridiculous logic of the war on drugs is that even when asked a direct question by members of Congress, the head of the agency tasked with administering our drug policy cannot answer truthfully questions that could save lives,” Franklin said.
The hearing focused largely on the racial disparities engendered by the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws, the lifelong impact of marijuana convictions (which, unlike murder and other violent crimes can disqualify a person from receiving some federal student loans as well as other legal entitlements), the failure of the Drug War to reduce use, the money wasted on prohibition, misplaced law enforcement priorities, and the right of states to govern themselves.
“It’s time criminal justice professionals stop being motivated by politics and start being motivated to do what is best for the American people,” added Lieutenant Commander Diane Goldstein (Ret.), a LEAP board member.
“It was made abundantly clear that the drug czar’s office either does not have its facts straight on marijuana or is unwilling to acknowledge them,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “If someone cannot simply agree that marijuana is less harmful than drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, they are not fit to be overseeing our nation’s drug policy.
“Anyone who can read and is willing to review the evidence objectively will arrive at the conclusion that marijuana is actually much safer than alcohol,” Riffle said. “This is just more evidence that it’s time for a new approach to marijuana policy in our nation’s capital. Our marijuana policy should be guided by scientific evidence and not the antiquated views of some federal officials.”