Marijuana plants are displayed for sale.
Anthony Bolante/Reuters

Trump’s new ‘drug czar’ poised to roll back the clock

After years of regressive and reactionary policies associated with the “war on drugs,” Americans saw real progress in the Obama era. As we discussed in April, voters in a variety of states voted in recent years to legalize recreational marijuana use – a step that seemed hard to imagine in the not-too-distant past – and when Barack Obama commuted the sentences of many non-violent drug offenders, few blinked an eye.

There was a burgeoning consensus, backed by plenty of prominent figures from the right and left, that the decades-long “war” was needlessly expensive, punitive, and damaging. It was time to move forward with a newer, smarter approach.

That progress, however, was interrupted by Donald Trump’s election. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made no secret of his intentions to renew the drug war, and he’ll likely have a partner in Tom Marino, a Republican congressman whom the president nominated late last week to take over the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Vox noted yesterday that Marino’s voting record “suggests he’s to the right of many of his Republican colleagues on the war on drugs.” Among other things, the Pennsylvania Republican “voted against a bipartisan measure (which ultimately passed) that blocked the US Department of Justice from cracking down on medical marijuana businesses in states where medicinal pot is legal. He voted against a bill that would’ve let Veterans Affairs doctors recommend medical marijuana to patients.”

But I remain especially interested in this Washington Post piece from April.

As a congressman, Marino called for a national program of mandatory inpatient substance abuse treatment for non-violent drug offenders. “One treatment option I have advocated for years would be placing non-dealer, non-violent drug abusers in a secured hospital-type setting under the constant care of health professionals,” he said at a hearing last year.

“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,” Marino explained. “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.”

Wait, did he say “hospital-slash-prison” for non-violent drug users?

I continue to find this bizarre. If some non-violent adult were caught with marijuana, for example, Marino apparently envisions a system in which that person would be locked up and subjected to “an intensive treatment program.” He or she would eventually be released, but be subjected to “intense supervision.”

The GOP congressman added last year that he might consider marijuana legalization, if the science proved persuasive, and if the drug could be produced “in pill form.”

The Trump White House took a look at this record and decided Marino’s the best choice to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy. So much for Obama-era progress.

Drug Policy, Drugs and War On Drugs

Trump's new 'drug czar' poised to roll back the clock