President Obama’s Administration wanted to decriminalize marijuana nationwide, but according to a report from the Huffington Post, officials were so concerned that it would distract from efforts to attack and control the opioid epidemic that it never took the leap.
A former official with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) told the news source that, during President Obama’s first term, the agency seriously considered recommending a policy change that would have eliminated the criminal penalties associated with minor marijuana possession. However, the office felt the issue would take much time away from its focus on the opioids, so officials buried the idea.
There was also a bigger problem at the root of the ONDCP’s decision to back away from plans to support decriminalization, as there was concern that coming out publicly in support of this reform might conflict with the very law that allowed the office to exist in the fist place.
Until 1988, there was not such thing as the ONDCP. The office was eventually created in an effort to prevent the legalization of illicit substances, a position that was supposed to offer no “surrender in the war on drugs.” The ONDCP was eventually forced to uphold some additional promises, including never allowing federal tax dollars to be used for research projects associated with Schedule I drugs, and always maintaining an opposition to “any attempt to legalize” the cannabis plant.
In the end, it seems the rules of the game crippled the office from taking a more progressive stance.
“It forced the office to take a policy position that it may or may not agree to,” Michael Botticelli, the former director of the drug czar’s office, told HuffPost. It is for this reason that the ONDCP simply stuck to plans to address the country’s opioid problem.
Although the office wanted only to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, and not legalize it in a manner that would allow for the existence of a national cannabis industry, the push could have been highly influential in getting additional states and local jurisdictions to follow suit – perhaps putting an end to arrests for small time pot offenders.
But because of the Obama Administration’s lack of action on the issue, more American citizens are now at risk of feeling the drop of the hammer at the hands of President Donald Trump.
Just last week, Trump’s leading law enforcer, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, revamped a previous Justice Department memo instructing federal prosecutors to go for the jugular when dealing with drug cases – including those pertaining to marijuana.
Some of the latest statistics from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) show that of the 8.2 million arrests for marijuana-related crimes between 2001 and 2010, 88 percent of them were for simple marijuana possession. Had the Obama Administration made the decision to decriminalize this offense at the federal level, it is conceivable that millions of small time offenders could have been saved from the perilous grind of the criminal justice system.