The Trump administration has been adding vocal prohibitionist Republicans to positions with the power to influence drug law this year, causing the marijuana industry to panic. The latest addition to office appears to be Tom Marino, a 3-term team member of the House of Representatives. Marino also used to be a prosecutor as the Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, where he says he prosecuted ”a wide range of federal offenders, from violent criminals and drug dealers to white collar businessmen who cooked the books.” Now he is Trump’s pick to head up the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
What is a Drug Czar?
The position as drug czar would mean that he would play a pivotal role in organizing drug control strategies and the funding for such tasks. His influence on policy will most likely be limited although traditionally this role is supposed to inform the president about drug policy issues. The office sets the tone for the administration’s attitude towards drugs. In the Obama administration, the term “war on drugs” was retired and the focus shifted towards public health and safety instead. The Trump administration already has a selection of prohibitionists in position of influence so the tone will likely be quite different now.
Marino’s History with Marijuana
Marino’s track record when it comes to marijuana policy is concerning and disappointing as he has consistently voted against marijuana reform. This includes voting against veterans having access to medical marijuana and voting against therapeutic CBD oil, which contains no psychoactive properties and is well known for treating childhood seizures. Having said that, he’s communicated that if hard scientific evidence proves marijuana’s medical benefits, then he believes it should be made into a pill. This is somewhat ironic given one of the main drug goals for his office is to deal with the opioid crisis.
Challenges Finding Data the Government Will Accept
Tens of thousands of people are dying each year from opioid use which includes opioids in pill form. So far, the only thing that is curbing the opioid crisis is marijuana. In states where medical marijuana is available, death and addiction from opioids has been reduced 23 percent on average. It’s unclear why he believes marijuana should be processed and turned into a pill when it works in its natural state. While there is an abundance of scientific evidence proving marijuana’s medicinal benefits, the DEA have only recently made it possible for scientists to apply to conduct official government approved medical research proving the medicinal value of marijuana. It will take some time to approve and complete medical research.
Alternatives to Incarceration
Despite having a lack of understanding about marijuana and the people who use it, Marino has advocated for alternative forms of incarceration. “One treatment option I have advocated for years would be placing nondealer, nonviolent drug abusers in a secured hospital-type setting under the constant care of health professionals,” he wrote. “Once the person agrees to plead guilty to possession, he or she will be placed in an intensive treatment program until experts determine that they should be released under intense supervision. If this is accomplished, then the charges are dropped against that person. The charges are only filed to have an incentive for that person to enter the hospital-slash-prison, if you want to call it.” Only 21 percent of marijuana users are considered to be addicts. So the other 79 percent of people incarcerated under his law would have no need for hospitalization.
Marino has also made it clear that marijuana should be dealt with on a state level. With all this information it’s still unclear how his influence will be felt across the administration.