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Friday, 28 April 2017 08:36

Will New Drug Czar Revive the US's Disastrous Drug Wars?

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Coke 0428wrp optPhoto: The "Drug War" has failed. (Zxc )Meet Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pennsylvania, a member of President Trump’s transition team, and a longtime loyal combatant in the nation’s drug wars.As a prosecutor in Pennsylvania, he steadfastly went after drug offenders, and, if as expected – and as CBS News has reported – Marino is appointed Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy” (ONDCP), it appears we’re headed for more ill-conceived and misguided drug policy initiatives, more wasted money, and greater imprisonment for minor drug offenders.  

As a Congressman, according to the Portland Mercury’s Vince Sliwoski, Marino, who represents Pennsylvania’s rural 10th Congressional District, “voted against the Rohrabacher-Farr amendments, which prohibit the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute state-compliant medical marijuana actors.”

He also “voted against allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis to patients….[a]nd he opposed measures to ease federal restrictions on hemp and cannabidiol (CBD).”

The Seattle Weekly’s Meagan Angus recently reported that Marino “supports forced inpatient hospitalization for any non-dealer, nonviolent person who pleads guilty to possession to receive constant ‘treatment’ until a doctor thinks they are fit to re-enter society.”

How much this “treatment,” or what Marino calls “hospital-slash-prison” will involve enriching the pharmaceutical industry, from which Marino has received a fair amount of money -- $150,000 from the pharmaceutical/health products industries in the 2015-2016 campaign cycle -- is anybody’s guess. And, it is more than a possibility that if Marino’s plan were put into effect, it might grow a hospital privatization industry, similar to the growth of the prison industrial complex.

Last May, Marino explained his initiative: “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. 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.”

In a news release dated April 14, The Drug Policy Alliance, a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to progressive drug policy reform, warned that Marino is a “drug war extremist” who will “double down on the failed drug war.”

“Rep. Tom Marino is a disastrous choice for drug czar and needs to be opposed,” said Bill Piper, senior director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “America can do much better. Our nation needs a drug czar that wants to treat drug use as a health issue, not someone who wants to double down on mass incarceration.”

Marino’s views are reflective of several of Trump’s advisors, major appointees, including Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, and Homeland Security Chief John Kelly -- and the vice president.

In 2016, Sessions was quoted as saying, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” calling it a “very real danger,” and “not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”  

And in a speech, Sessions, harkening back to the Reagan era’s failed drug policy, highlighted by Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” mantra, said: "Psychologically, politically, morally, we need to say — as Nancy Reagan said — 'Just say no.'"

In a mid-March speech in Richmond, Virginia, Sessions said: “I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana—so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”

Michael Collins, Deputy Director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s office of national affairs called John Kelly “a big-time drug war zealot.”

Sessions recently announced the creation of a federal task force to examine current marijuana policies, whose preliminary recommendations are due by the end of July.

With Sessions as Attorney General and Marino as drug czar a crackdown on medical marijuana and those states that have legalized marijuana could be barreling down the pike. As The College Voice’s Max Amar-Olkus recently pointed out,

“If Sessions cracks down on the legal and medicinal marijuana industries, approximately 150,000 people could be left unemployed nationwide, and a nearly six billion dollar industry could be squashed. We would see a reversal in policies meant to keep urban youth, predominantly those of African American and Latino descent, out of prison for petty offenses such as marijuana possession. But this is by no means the end of the story. This issue will most definitely continue to develop, and will likely include some sort of draconian legislation.