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Dear Pot Lawyer,

I heard we’re getting a new federal drug czar. So... just how terrible is he?

Pretty terrible. The new drug czar is a guy named Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) and you can expect his appointment any day now. Marino’s official title will be “Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy” (ONDCP) but everyone will just call him “drug czar.” This is a stellar appellation Joe Biden dreamed up for the position in the early ’80s.

The drug czar’s job is to coordinate domestic and international anti-drug efforts and advise President Trump. As it relates to weed, the substance of that advice will be all anti-cannabis, all the time, in line with Marino’s personal views. I infer this because unlike many Republicans, Marino voted against the Rohrabacher-Farr amendments, which prohibit the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute state-compliant medical marijuana actors. Marino also voted against allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis to patients. And he opposed measures to ease federal restrictions on hemp and cannabidiol (CBD).

You thought I was done. Here’s my least favorite thing about the new drug czar: When asked about cannabis legalization, he offered that he would consider legalization only “if we had a really in-depth medical study” and if the medical cannabis were only available in “pill form.” Does Marino take money from large pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists? You bet he does.

Having a terrible drug czar is discouraging, because, as with foreign wars, the war on drugs is an area where the executive branch wields outsized and tangible power. The executive branch is now lousy with old-school drug warriors, from Marino to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Homeland Security Chief John Kelly. In addition to cannabis prohibition, these guys (they’re all guys) promote arcane concepts like asset forfeiture, deportation, and mandatory drug treatment for cannabis users.

It is interesting to note that shortly after taking office, President Trump had proposed to cut ONDCP entirely. That would have been smart, because the office has failed since its inception, and exquisitely so in regards to cannabis. For example, in February 2005, research commissioned by ONDCP reported that the federal government’s $1.4 billion, eight-year ad blitz did not dissuade teens from smoking pot. Nevertheless, ONDCP continued the ad campaign, spending another $200 million on anti-pot ads in 2005 and 2006. (Those classic ads are still up on YouTube, although ONDCP was forced to disable comments and ratings almost immediately.)

To be clear, having a new drug czar does not mean federal enforcement against licensed pot merchants, and state-sanctioned use is about to commence. Although the feds claim that “aggressive law enforcement” is a top priority, they have yet to go after anyone. And, after firing all of the Obama US attorneys, the Department of Justice still doesn’t have a single US attorney in place to lead these sorts of efforts. Everything remains unsettled, though we do have a brand new drug czar.


Got a question? Email us at potlawyer@portlandmercury.com. And remember that if you have a legal problem, contact a lawyer! Our educational musings cannot be relied upon as specific legal advice.