Congressman Steve Cohen

Representing the 9th District of Tennessee

Cohen to Deputy Drug Czar: War on Drugs Has Failed, Office of National Drug Control Policy "Can't Handle the Truth"

February 4, 2014
Press Release

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today railed against misguided and outdated federal drug enforcement policies that place marijuana on the same level as much more dangerous drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. At a House Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations hearing this afternoon, Congressman Cohen explained to Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Deputy Director Michael Botticelli that these policies and other anachronistic laws have resulted in a failed drug war and a generation of young Americans who believe the government has lied about the dangers of marijuana. Video of the Congressman’s opening remarks can be found here, and his questioning of Deputy Director Botticelli is available here.

“Nobody dies from marijuana, but people die from heroin overdoses—including the late Philip Seymour Hoffman—every day,” said Congressman Cohen. “Every second we spend trying to enforce marijuana possession laws is a moment that we’re not enforcing laws meant to protect Americans from the ravages of drugs like heroin and meth. That’s where our priority should be. When we put marijuana on the same level as LSD, crack, heroin, meth, and cocaine, it only encourages young people not to listen to us. They know that marijuana isn’t as dangerous as harder drugs—and they don’t listen because they know it’s wrong.”

“People shouldn’t be smoking marijuana, but they are,” the Congressman continued. “They shouldn’t be smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol either, but they are. We shouldn’t lock them up for any of that. Any time an American goes to jail and has their liberty taken away from them for marijuana possession, that is an injustice and a travesty—it’s a crime perpetrated by our federal government. It is ludicrous, absurd, and crazy to classify marijuana on the same level as more dangerous drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. There is a cultural lag in this country, and Congress and this Administration must fix it.”

At today’s hearing, Congressman Cohen also highlighted the absurdity of the ONDCP being required by law to oppose reclassifying the drug as less dangerous or as having any medical use—despite also being prohibited by law from studying whether or not those premises could be true.

“I am troubled that not only is the ONDCP the only federal office required by law to oppose rescheduling marijuana even if it is proven to have medical benefits, but that the office also is prohibited from studying if that could even be true,” said Congressman Cohen. “The ONDCP’s job should be to develop and recommend sane drug control policies, not be handcuffed or muzzled from telling the American people the truth.”

With the ONDCP prohibited from further study of medical benefits or safety, Congressman Cohen has introduced legislation to create a National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy. The Commission would undertake a comprehensive review of the federal government’s current policies toward marijuana, particularly in light of the growing number of states where marijuana is already legal for medicinal or personal use. More information about the Congressman’s legislation can be found here.