By Emily Gray Brosious
Drug policy reformers are not happy about President Donald Trump’s rumored pick for director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, U.S. Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA).
The Drug Policy Alliance, a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to progressive drug policy reform, released a critical news release on Friday, April 14, warning that Marino is a “drug war extremist” who will roll back Obama-era policy reforms and “double down on the failed drug war.”
Marino, a former prosecutor now representing Pennsylvania’s rural 10th Congressional District, is expected to be nominated as the country’s new “drug czar,” according to CBS News.
“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.”
Drug Policy Action, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, gave Marino an “F” in its 2016 congressional voter guide for his drug policy positions.
In May 2016, Marino outlined his strategy for addressing addiction in the U.S., which included calls for “hospital-slash-prison” facilities, where low-level drug offenders who plead guilty to possession charges would be sent for “intensive treatment,” as reported by ATTN:
“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.”
The Drug Policy Alliance says “coerced treatment rarely works.” That argument is supported by a 2012 Human Rights Watch report on hospital-prison policies in China, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries, which concluded drug-detention facilities offered “torture, not treatment.”
The Drug Policy Alliance points to its own evaluation of “existing coercive drug courts in the U.S.,” which found “enormous problems with little positive impact.”
Drug-court proponents with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) claim the system enables criminal drug offenders to beat their addictions in a supervised treatment setting, which “reduces crime, saves money and ensures compliance.”
“We can hold people accountable for their dangerous behavior, while at the same time supervising them in the community and providing them with needed treatment and other services,” NADCP says.
But groups like the international philanthropic organization Open Society Foundation call this system “deeply flawed.”
“After 25 years of drug court experience in the United States, a substantial body of evidence suggests that these courts can do more harm than good,” Open Society Public Health Program researcher Joanne Csete and International Harm Reduction Development Program deputy director Denise Tomasini-Joshi wrote in 2015.
The Drug Policy Alliance says Marino’s preference for coerced treatment strategies, even for medical and non-medical marijuana, represents a “punitive, 1980s style approach to drugs.”
Eight states have now legalized marijuana for recreational use, and at least 28 states and the District of Columbia have enacted comprehensive medical cannabis programs.
Along the campaign trail, President Trump repeatedly said medical marijuana should be left up to the states. But his choice of staunch marijuana opponent Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General and his likely choice of Marino as drug czar are stirring fears among cannabis advocates that the federal government may dramatically reverse course on Obama-era marijuana enforcement directives.
The Obama administration directed federal authorities not to prosecute state-legal marijuana activities. It’s still unclear how the Trump administration plans to handle the schism between state and federal marijuana laws.
Attorney General Sessions recently announced the creation of a federal task force to examine current marijuana policies. Initial recommendations are due by July 27.
If Trump’s Justice Department were to crack down on state-legal marijuana, it would likely face significant public pushback. October 2016 Gallup Polling found 60 percent of Americans now favor legal marijuana.
“The American people are moving in one direction and the Trump Administration is moving in another,” Piper said. “There are few hard-core supporters of the failed war on drugs left, but those that are left seem to all be getting jobs in the Administration.”