Drug Czar Acknowledges ‘National Conversation’ On Marijuana, But Not Without Harsh Words

Earlier this week, U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske issued a response to three different White House petitions urging President Obama to support softer federal marijuana law with a statement that many took as a positive signal:

Thank you for participating in We the People and speaking out on the legalization of marijuana. Coming out of the recent election, it is clear that we’re in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.

At President Obama’s request, the Justice Department is reviewing the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington, given differences between state and federal law. In the meantime, please see a recent interview with Barbara Walters in which President Obama addressed the legalization of marijuana.

He then refers the petitioners to Obama’s comments on 20/20 that it would not make sense to focus federal enforcement on “users” of recreational marijuana (with no mention of suppliers and distributors), and that the executive branch is charged with carrying out the law, which “Congress has not yet changed.”

Tom Angell, chairman of marijuana majority, called the statement a “pretty stark shift” from Kerlikowske’s earlier remarks that “legalization is not in my vocabulary and it’s not in the president’s.”

“I guess it makes a difference when marijuana legalization gets more votes than your boss does in an important swing state, as happened in Colorado this last election,” he said.

But lest there be any doubt that Kerlikowske opposes legalization, he just this week told an audience of law enforcement officers in San Francisco, the heart of the early medical marijuana movement, that calling cannabis medicine “sends a terrible message” and that legalization presents a “false choice.”

He added:

Medicinal marijuana has never been through the FDA process. We have the world’s most renowned process to decide what is medicine and what should go in peoples’ bodies. And marijuana has never been through that process.

What he doesn’t say is that marijuana has never been through that process in large part because the obstacles to clearing the FDA’s research hurdles are almost unsurmountable so long as marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, an executive branch determination that the Drug Enforcement Administration has repeatedly refused to revisit.