Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) asked deputy drug czar Michael Botticelli questions on Tuesday that illustrate federal drug policy’s failure to address drugs that “ravage our country” are due, in part, to a government classification that makes marijuana as dangerous as heroin.
“It is ludicrous, absurd, crazy to have marijuana in the same level as heroin,” Cohen said. “Ask the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, if you could. Nobody dies from marijuana. People die from heroin.”
“Every second that we spend in this country trying to enforce marijuana laws is a second that we’re not enforcing heroin laws. And heroin and meth are the two drugs that are ravaging our country,” Cohen continued. “And every death, including Mr. Hoffman’s, is partly the responsibility of the federal government’s drug priorities for not putting total emphasis on the drugs that kill, that cause people to be addicted and have to steal to support their habit.”
“Heroin is getting into the arms of young people,” Cohen said. “When we put marijuana on the same level as heroin and crack and LSD and meth and crack and cocaine, we are telling young people not to listen to adults about the ravages and problems, and they don’t listen because they know you’re wrong.”
Cohen said to Botticelli, “You can’t name one person who’s died from a overdose of marijuana can you?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Botticelli replied.
“Do you know people, possibly, heard of people who smoke marijuana, who are corporate giants? Who run banks? Run major corporations?” Cohen asked.
“Yes sir, but I also know.. a substantial number of people who also have gone one to develop significant disorders who have smoked marijuana. Again 1 in 9 people who try marijuana develop a dependency and we know that particularly those kids who use it early..”
“Kids shouldn’t use it,” Cohen said, cutting off Botticelli. “Kids shouldn’t use it ever. And at age 18 people shouldn’t be arrested for it. Maybe it should be 21.. but the fact is, we need to put our priorities toward heroin and meth.”
When asked by Cohen how much of the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s budget goes toward treating heroin addiction, Botticelli said the administration doesn’t divide the budget based on specific drugs, but focuses on preventing overall drug use.
“Isn’t that a mistake when people die form heroin in great numbers, that the Vermont governor spends his entire State of the State on heroin use? And we don’t distinguish and try to save people’s lives?” Cohen said. “That’s when you knock people over at the corner store. It’s not to get money to buy a donut ’cause you’re high, it’s to buy heroin because you’re hooked.”
Dan Riffle, the Marijuana Policy Project’s director of federal policies, said, “It was made abundantly clear that the drug czar’s office either does not have its facts straight on marijuana or is unwilling to acknowledge them,” Riffle said in a statement. “If someone cannot simply agree that marijuana is less harmful than drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, they are not fit to be overseeing our nation’s drug policy.”