Office of National Drug Control Policy officials under President Barack Obama wanted to decriminalize cannabis possession nationally but never made the case publicly, according to a Huffington Post report. Former ONDCP Deputy Director A. Thomas McLellan, who worked with the agency during Obama’s first term, said the office was “in favor of decriminalizing but not legalizing.”
Michael Botticelli, who served as director of the ONDCP from Mar. 2014 until the end of Obama’s term, said that officials were hamstrung by provisions in the 1988 law that created the office which stated that “the legalization of illegal drugs is an unconscionable surrender in the war on drugs.” Later, when the office was reauthorized, it was stipulated that the office could not use federal funds to study the legalization of any Schedule I drugs. Language was also included that directed the office to “oppose any attempt to legalize” cannabis.
“It forced the office to take a policy position that it may or may not agree to,” Botticelli said in the report.
Another unnamed former ONDCP employee said the statute undermined the authority of agency employees and “makes it look like the office’s primary purpose is to oppose marijuana.”
Botticelli called new directives by Attorney General Jeff Sessions – returning to Drug War-era mandatory minimum sentences – “very alarming,” saying it is an approach that, historically, “doesn’t seem to have made a significant difference.”
“It seems like we are moving backwards instead of forward,” he said. “And to a position that I think doesn’t have a lot of science and evidence.”
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