As promised, the White House has responded to the online petition to "Legalize and Regulate Alcohol," and seven other similar pot petitions as well, but the response wasn't favorable. That's not particularly surprising, given that the person chosen to deliver the response, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Gil Kerlikowske, is mandated by law to oppose legalization.
"Isn't it time to legalize and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol?" asked the petition submitted by "Erik A" of Washington, DC. "If not, please explain why you feel that the continued criminalization of cannabis will achieve the results in the future that it has never achieved in the past?
The threshold for an official response was at least 25,000 signatures by 30 days from October 3. The marijuana legalization petition was by far the most popular, with more than 74,000 signatures as of Friday night. Another seven petitions similarly calling for one form of pot legalization or another, which Kerlikowske also included in his response, carried an additional 76,000 signatures.
The marijuana legalization petitions far exceeded all others. Currently, the other leading contenders are banning puppy mills (30,234), abolishing the TSA (28,515), and two other issues that are closely related to marijuana reform -- allowing for industrial hemp (20,498) and ending the war on drugs (18,614).
The official response
from drug czar Kerlikowske is certain to disappoint and infuriate marijuana legalization supporters and drug reformers, but should come as little surprise. Under the 1998 ONDCP Reauthorization Act
, the drug czar is required by law not only to not spend any money to study legalization but also to "take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize" a Schedule I substance, a category that under federal law includes marijuana. The drug czar could no more come out for marijuana legalization than the 17th Century Holy Office could endorse a universe without the earth at its center.
That the administration chose the drug czar to respond sends a strong signal that legalization talk will go nowhere in this administration. That it chose to release its response during the late Friday afternoon "news dump," when it will hopefully vanish over the weekend suggests that it realizes it isn't going to win many political points with its position.
"Our concern about marijuana is based on what the science tells us about the drug's effects," Kerlikowske begins before warning that "marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment." He then wheels out marijuana treatment admissions and emergency room visits, reminds that potency has increased, and concludes that "simply put, it is not a benign drug."
Kerlikowske asserts that the administration is "ardently support[ing] ongoing research" into marijuana as a medicine, but scoffs at smoked marijuana as a medicine. Then he actually addresses the petition.
"As a former police chief, I recognize we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem," the drug czar continued. "We also recognize that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use."
Instead, Kerlikowske recommends, not surprisingly, his own 2001 National Drug Control Strategy
, "emphasizing prevention and treatment while at the same time supporting innovative law enforcement efforts that protect public safety and disrupt the supply of drugs entering our communities." What is needed is not marijuana legalization, but more drug treatment and more drug courts, Kerlikowske concludes.
The legalization petition was drafted in response to the White House's We the People
campaign "because we want to hear from you," according to the web page. "If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it is sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response."
The drug czar's recitation of the harms associated with marijuana use is certainly debatable and will doubtlessly be thoroughly criticized in days to come. But as the administration response makes clear, that marijuana is a dangerous drug that Americans cannot be trusted with to use responsibly is the official line, and they're sticking to it.