WASHINGTON, DC – Following recent announcements that President Obama’s Administration will respect state marijuana laws and seek smarter sentences when prosecuting low-level drug offenses, U.S. Representatives Steve Cohen (TN-09), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Sam Farr (CA-20), Mark Pocan (WI-02), and Jared Polis (CO-02) urged the President to take another step towards common-sense drug policy by nominating a new “Drug Czar” who will bring reason, science, and facts to the soon-to-be-vacant position.

“We commend you and your Administration on the recent steps you have taken to pursue smarter sentencing and policies that respect state laws regarding marijuana,” wrote the Congressmen. “We urge you to nominate a new Director of ONDCP who will develop policies based on science rather than ideology and move away from the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana. The new Director should promote fact-based education and use medical science and behavioral research to end the questionable practice of equating marijuana with dangerous drugs like heroin, crack, and methamphetamine.”

The position of Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), commonly referred to as the “Drug Czar,” has historically been filled by individuals with law enforcement backgrounds who have viewed drug policy as a matter of criminal enforcement rather than as a matter of public health—regardless of the medical science and public research available. The current Director, Gil Kerlikowke, was recently nominated to be Director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection by President Obama. If Kerlikowke is confirmed for that position, the ONDCP will need a new Director.

The text of Congressmen’s letter to the President follows:

 

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

We applaud the recent announcements by Attorney General Holder that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will seek smarter sentences when prosecuting low level drug offenses and will respect the laws of those states that have enacted frameworks for taxing and regulating marijuana.  With your nomination of Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), to be Director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, we urge you to continue these promising steps by seizing the opportunity to replace Mr. Kerlikowske with someone whose policies toward marijuana are guided by common sense and science, and consistent with the recently-released DOJ guidance, rather focusing on failed policies of prohibition.  The new Director should promote fact-based education and use medical science and behavioral research to end the questionable practice of equating marijuana with dangerous drugs like heroin, crack, and methamphetamine.

Historically, the Director of ONDCP has had a law enforcement background and has been referred to by the unfortunate nickname of “Drug Czar.”  As this moniker implies, past Directors have viewed drug policy as a matter of criminal enforcement rather than as a matter of public health.  We ask that you break from this tradition and nominate someone with a background in science.  Particularly in light of the rapidly growing public support for marijuana legalization and broader drug policy reform, it would be a mistake for you to appoint someone who merely continues to prosecute the failed War on Drugs.

Instead, the new Director of ONDCP should promote scientific research into the benefits and risks of marijuana legalization and be guided by the results of those findings.  He or she should take note of the growing movement at the state level to make marijuana legal for medical or personal use and help shape national policies based on the lessons learned in those states.  At a minimum the new Director should urge strict adherence to the recent DOJ guidelines regarding criminal enforcement in those states.

We also hope that the next Director of ONDCP will build on the important steps that Director Kerlikowske took to recognize the collateral consequences of conviction for a minor drug offense.  His replacement should continue to advocate alternatives to incarceration and reducing barriers to reentry for incarcerated individuals.  Promoting these policies will not only help keep thousands of Americans on the path to success, it will also save this nation the precious resources it cannot afford to waste on prosecution of minor drug offenses.

We commend you and your Administration on the recent steps you have taken to pursue smarter sentencing and policies that respect state laws regarding marijuana.  We hope that these measures signal a strong shift toward a more rational drug policy.  To further this goal, we urge you to nominate a new Director of ONDCP who will develop policies based on science rather than ideology and move away from the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana.  We look forward to working with you as you consider candidates for this important post.

Sincerely,

 

 

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