Cohen Introduces Bill to Give Drug Czar Freedom to Reform "Ludicrous" Marijuana Policies

February 12, 2014
Press Release

Congressman also joins bipartisan letter asking the President to remove marijuana from the federal government’s list of most dangerous drugs

[WASHINGTON, DC] – House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice Ranking Member Steve Cohen (TN-09) introduced H.R. 4046, the Unmuzzle the Drug Czar Act, to remove restrictions that require the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), colloquially known as the “Drug Czar,” to oppose changing the legal status of marijuana and prevent it from even studying whether there could be any medical benefits.

“Not only is the ONDCP the only federal office required by law to oppose changing the legal status of marijuana even if it is proven to have medical benefits, but it is also prohibited from studying if that could be 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. How can we trust what the Drug Czar says if the law already preordains its position? My bill would give the ONDCP the freedom to use science—not ideology—in its recommendations and give the American people a reason to trust what they are told.”

Video of Congressman Cohen raising this issue to ONDCP Deputy Director Michael Botticelli last week at House Oversight Subcommittee hearing is available here, and video of his opening remarks at the same hearing can be found here. At the hearing, Congressman Cohen also explained to Deputy Director Botticelli how 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.

Congressman Cohen today also joined a bipartisan coalition led by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) in sending a letter to President Obama encouraging the reclassification of marijuana from Schedule I. If a drug is listed under Schedule I, it means that the federal government recognizes no medical use. Including marijuana in this classification disregards both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized it for medical purposes.

“You said that you don’t believe marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol: a fully legalized substance, and believe it to be less dangerous ‘in terms of its impact on the individual consumer,’” reads the letter sent to the President. “This is true. Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, the strictest classification, along with heroin and LSD. This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs. This makes no sense.”

“Marijuana is not as dangerous as heroin,” said Congressman Blumenauer. “Yet, the federal government classifies both as Schedule I substances, the highest possible listing. This makes no sense, and the majority of Americans agree. That is why I sent a letter to the President asking him to reschedule marijuana in a more appropriate context, and why I support this legislation to remove restrictions on the administration that inhibit conversations about rescheduling. The American people want us to have a rational conversation about drug policy, and this is long overdue.”

With the ONDCP prohibited from further study of medical benefits or safety, Congressman Cohen has also 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.