Recently, President Obama said something that we all knew was true despite decades of government propaganda and politicians claiming otherwise: namely that alcohol, a legal substance that’s widely available, is more dangerous than weed. Getting the Office of National Drug Control Policy to admit the same was a much harder prospect. (ANIMAL cut a 15 minute highlight reel of the proceedings that lasted nearly two hours, as these type of events tend to have a lot of grandstanding and bloviating.)
At the Oversight & Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations on Tuesday, congressional Democrats grilled Deputy Drug Czar and recovering addict Michael Botticelli about pot and his reluctance to admit that weed is safer than just about every illegal drug it gets sloppily lumped in with.
“When we put marijuana on the same level as heroin and LSD and meth and crack and cocaine,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), “we are telling young people not to listen to the adults about the ravages and problems. And they don’t listen, because they know you’re wrong.”
Cohen then invoked the death of celebrity drug addict Philip Seymour Hoffman as obvious proof that heroin is a lot more dangerous than weed. “Ask the late Philip Seymour Hoffman if you could,” said Cohen rhetorically. “Nobody dies from marijuana. People die from heroin.”
Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) asked Botticelli if he was familiar with Harry Anslinger, the infamous law enforcement official who adopted a Reefer Madness-type approach to weed and helped rebrand cannabis as “marijuana” in an effort to demonize the good herb and associate it with Mexican immigrants. The deputy drug czar said he was not.
With Republicans claiming to be the arbiters of states rights and civil liberties, you would think that ending the prohibition on weed would fit neatly into their platform, but none of them were nearly as forceful in their questioning as their colleagues across the aisle. Chairman John Mica (R-Florida) characterized the president’s change in policy as “schizophrenic.”
Representative Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia) disagreed and pressed Botticelli about the the validity of the president’s statements concerning weed being much safer than alcohol. Several times, the deputy drug czar refused to give a straight answer.
“Is it not a scientific fact that there is nothing comparable with marijuana?” asked Connolly. “And I’m not saying it is good or bad, but when we look at deaths and illnesses, alcohol, other hard drugs are certainly—even prescription drugs—are a threat to public health in a way that just isolated marijuana is not. Isn’t that a scientific fact? Or do you dispute that fact?”
“I don’t dispute that fact,” Botticelli said.
At a hearing in 2012, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) couldn’t get the head of the DEA to admit that heroin is more dangerous or addictive than weed, so… progress?