May 3, 2017
DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE: According to news reports President Donald Trump will not be nominating Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (colloquially referred to as the “drug czar”).
This is a major victory for the Drug Policy Alliance, which launched a campaign to prevent Marino from being nominated. Marino’s nomination seemed all but certain just a few weeks ago but a flurry of news stories on his extremist views, like turning hospitals into prisons, and using his power as prosecutor to help his friends, no doubt put pressure on the Administration to go in a different direction.
With Marino knocked out of the running, President Trump has an opportunity to pick a better nominee for drug czar. The tide of public opinion is turning against the drug war and Trump would be wise to nominate a drug czar who supports reform, including treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. Millions of families have been negatively affected by substance misuse. Millions more have been hurt by punitive drug policies. As Trump and his rivals in the election found out at town hall after town hall, voters want these issues to be addressed head-on.
The next drug czar doesn’t have to be a scientist or have an extensive medical background to be effective, but they should understand science and take an evidence-based approach towards drug policy. They should also be a consensus builder. Eight states have legalized marijuana like alcohol; 29 states have legalized marijuana for medical use. Dozens of states have passed drug-sentencing reform, and a bipartisan coalition in Congress came close to reforming federal drug sentencing laws last year.
The federal Controlled Substances Act, which governs U.S. drug policy, was written in 1970. The next drug czar should work with Congress and state policymakers to bring it into the 21st Century.
Bill Piper is the senior director of the office of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.