Obama's New Drug Czar Prefers Oppression for Cannabis Users

Drug czar Michael Botticelli thinks that cannabis legalization is "bad public health policy."
Drug czar Michael Botticelli thinks that cannabis legalization is "bad public health policy."
Office of National Drug Control Policy

Michael Botticelli, President Obama's new drug czar, said on 60 Minutes that he doesn't believe in cannabis legalization, deeming it "bad public health policy."

The hypocrisy meter is off the charts on this one: Botticelli works for Obama, who is destined to go down as the greatest marijuana president of all time. After ordering federal storm troopers to keep their hands off medical-marijuana retail stores in 2009, Obama followed up by allowing the explosion of recreational marijuana across four states and Washington, D.C. Now, his drug czar says legalization's a bad idea. Here's a CBS News transcript of that part of the interview:

Botticelli does not believe in adding another drug to that cocktail with the legalization of marijuana.

Scott Pelley: You're not a fan?

Michael Botticelli: I'm not a fan. What we've seen quite honestly is a dramatic decrease in the perception of risk among youth around occasional marijuana use. And they are getting the message that because it's legal, that it is, there's no harm associated with it. So, we know that about one in nine people who use marijuana become addicted to marijuana. It's been associated with poor academic performance, in exacerbating mental health conditions linked to lower IQ.

Botticelli worries the marijuana industry is quickly adapting "big tobacco's" playbook.

In the 90s tobacco companies appealed to kids with flavored cigarettes and Joe Camel. Today, the nearly $3 billion marijuana industry promotes sweetened edibles and "buddie," a mascot for legalization.

Scott Pelley: You are never gonna be able to talk all the states out of the tax revenue that will come from a burgeoning marijuana industry. It will just be too seductive.

Michael Boticelli: You know, that's quite honestly my fear. Is that states are going to become dependent on the revenue.

Scott Pelley: It becomes a co-dependency?

Michael Botticelli: It becomes an addiction to, unfortunately, a tax revenue that's often based on bad public health policy.

In fact, the new director of the national Office of National Drug Control Policy, who took the position in March, is legally required to deny support for legalizing cannabis. The statute that creates the office denies the director the First Amendment right to speak his mind on the issue, stating that he should only impart "the sense of the Congress that proposals to legalize illicit drugs should be rejected and consideration given only to proposals that directly attack the supply of, and demand for, illicit drugs."

This is one way those opposing legalization have tried to keep the upper hand — by forbidding discussion of an alternative to the War on Drugs. Botticelli would be breaking the law if he supported legalization.

Still, by looking at Botticelli's personal life, it appears he's sold his principles for his job. Gay people spent the last few decades fighting persecution and the concept that they just need "treatment" to be cured of their desires, but Botticelli — a gay man who's been married to another man since 2009 — claims support for similar oppression against cannabis users.

His comments come as voters in Arizona, California, and other states expect to see cannabis-legalization measures on ballots next November. Nearly half the states already have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, and four states plus Washington, D.C., have legalized it for all adults 21 and older.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, a Republican, came out in support of Botticelli's statement, noting the two-faced nature of the Obama administration on the issue.

"I find it telling that those within the Obama administration who have responsibility for carrying forward a responsible national drug policy see the folly of legalizing marijuana," he said in a statement released by Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, which is opposing legalization measures that may appear on the Arizona ballot next year. "Aside from my concurrence with Director Botticelli’s conclusion, the President would do well to listen."

Botticelli, in turn, might appreciate Montgomery's support of his anti-legalization position — but clearly would not like Montgomery's longtime opposition to gay marriage. With marijuana, the gay, married Democrat and straight, married Republican find a common enemy.

Botticelli has an underlying reason for hating marijuana: He's an ex-drunkard with a history of failing to control his booze habit. Many years ago, after waking up in a hospital following an alcohol-fueled crash and facing eviction from his home, as the 60 Minutes interview covers, Botticelli got his life back on track and entered the field of public health and substance-abuse treatment. If anything, he ought to be calling for a return to the prohibition of alcohol, which obviously messed him up worse than marijuana could have.

Overall, Botticelli doesn't believe in the typical lock-'em-up method of drug control, even for heroin users. He says treating drug addicts as criminals is "inhumane," ineffective, and expensive. Addicts should be treated as patients instead, he says.

As far as prohibitionists like Botticelli and Montgomery are concerned, anyone caught with a joint should be busted and required to attend mandatory drug-treatment classes. Despite the name of the 60 Minutes segment, this doesn't sound like a "new direction on drugs."


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