Under Current Law Drug Czar Must Oppose Legalization of Marijuana, Even for Medical Use, No Matter What the Science Shows or What the American People Support
Cohen Bill Would Allow Drug Czar to Take Same Positions on Marijuana Policy as President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder
WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) has introduced The Unmuzzle the Drug Czar Act of 2014 (H.R. 4046). The bill would repeal a little know provision of federal law that requires the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), informally known as the U.S. Drug Czar, to “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use” of marijuana or any Schedule I drug for medical or non-medical use. The provision even prohibits ONDCP from studying legalization.
Because of the ban, the Drug Czar and his staff are unfairly prevented from stating their true positions on marijuana policy and are not even allowed to study the legalization of medical marijuana in 20 states and the District of Columbia or the legalization of marijuana like alcohol in Colorado and Washington. Many believe the ban makes government officials too afraid during congressional hearings to even say scientifically accurate statements like the fact that marijuana is safer than alcohol, heroin and other drugs when asked by members of Congress.
“It’s extraordinary if you really think about it: a federal law prohibiting a federal agency from even studying an issue, and then directing that agency to oppose any reform no matter what scientific or other evidence emerges,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “That such a law remains on the books is disgraceful. I pity the intellectually honest staff at the drug czar’s office who are muzzled and censored, and effectively compelled to lie when they testify before Congress and speak to the public.”
A majority of Americans want to treat marijuana like alcohol. President Obama has said that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and that legalization in Colorado and Washington should move forward. In January, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration will announce guidelines that will make it easier for banks to deal with state-legalized marijuana businesses.
The ban only applies to the Drug Czar, which means that the nation’s top drug policy advisor is forced to take positions at odds with the President who appointed him and the Attorney General that wages the drug war.
Press Release From Congressman Steve Cohen:
Office of National Drug Control Policy currently required by law to oppose changing legal status of marijuana even if science supports doing so
Congressman also joins bipartisan letter asking the President to remove marijuana from the federal government’s list of most dangerous drugs
[WASHINGTON, DC] – House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice Ranking Member SteveCohen (TN-09) introduced H.R. 4046, the Unmuzzle the Drug Czar Act, to remove restrictions that require the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), colloquially known as the “Drug Czar,” to oppose changing the legal status ofmarijuana and prevent it from even studying whether there could be any medical benefits.
“Not only is the ONDCP the only federal office required by law to oppose rescheduling marijuana even if it is proven to have medical benefits, but it is also prohibited from studying if that could be even be true,” said Congressman Cohen. “The ONDCP’s job should be to develop and recommend sane drug control policies, not be handcuffed or muzzled from telling the American people the truth. How can we trust what the Drug Czar says if the law already preordains its position? My bill would give the ONDCP the freedom to use science—not ideology—in its recommendations and give the American people a reason to trust what they are told.”
Video of Congressman Cohen raising this issue to ONDCP Deputy Director Michael Botticelli last week at House Oversight Subcommittee hearing is available here, and video of his opening remarks at the same hearing can be found here. At the hearing, Congressman Cohen also explained to Deputy Director Botticelli how these policies and other anachronistic laws have resulted in a failed drug war and a generation of young Americans who believe the government has lied about the dangers of marijuana.
Congressman Cohen today also joined a bipartisan coalition led by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) in sending a letter to President Obama encouraging the reclassification of marijuana from Schedule I. If a drug is listed under Schedule I, it means that the federal government recognizes no medical use. Including marijuana in this classification disregards both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized it for medical purposes.
“You said that you don’t believe marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol: a fully legalized substance, and believe it to be less dangerous ‘in terms of its impact on the individual consumer,’” reads the letter sent to the President. “This is true. Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, the strictest classification, along with heroin and LSD. This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs. This makes no sense.”
“Marijuana is not as dangerous as heroin,” said Congressman Blumenauer. “Yet, the federal government classifies both as Schedule I substances, the highest possible listing. This makes no sense, and the majority of Americans agree. That is why I sent a letter to the President asking him to reschedule marijuana in a more appropriate context, and why I support this legislation to remove restrictions on the administration that inhibit conversations about rescheduling. The American people want us to have a rational conversation about drug policy, and this is long overdue.”
With the ONDCP prohibited from further study of medical benefits or safety, Congressman Cohen has also introduced legislation to create a National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy. The Commission would undertake a comprehensive review of the federal government’s current policies toward marijuana, particularly in light of the growing number of states where marijuana is already legal for medicinal or personal use. More information about the Congressman’s legislation can be found here.