The Trump administration named Tom Marino as the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), or “drug czar.” Marino is a Republican house representative from Pennsylvania. Before winning a seat in Congress, he was a district attorney during the Bush years.
Marino’s appointment does not necessarily mean a hard turn on cannabis policy. He is softer on weed than other politicians selected by Trump, like attorney general Jeff Sessions or governor Chris Christie. On the other hand, he opposed several bipartisan efforts focused on improving cannabis policy at the federal level.
A Drug Czar At Work
In his three terms as a congressman, Marino had a prominent role in forming drug control policy. In 2016, he wrote a bill providing more tools for the justice department to target drug trafficking activity outside US borders. Another bill allowed for more collaboration between pharmaceutical distributors and the DEA. Both bills passed.
Marino then served on a House committee with Democrats and other Republicans to combat the opioid epidemic. Over fifty thousand Americans died from opiate overdoses last year. But Marino’s trafficking legislation focused more on the prosecution of international traffickers, mostly low-level Colombian farmers. And his second bill, supported by the pharmaceutical lobby, made it harder to hold US pain-killer distributors accountable for their own participation in the epidemic.
Heroin, synthetic opioids, and pain medication are Marino’s primary targets, leaving cannabis on the sidelines. He holds a states’ rights view on legal weed. But he is not partial to using legal weed as a tool for curbing the opioid epidemic.
Marino’s Voting Record
As a house representative, Marino has consistently opposed federal reform initiatives for marijuana policy. He voted against a bill that prevents the Justice Department and the DEA from prosecuting vendors in states where marijuana is legal. He also voted against a bill to allow medical marijuana prescriptions for veterans. And once again, he opposed a bill to relax federal restrictions on growing hemp.
More striking than his voting record is a comment made in a congressional hearing in May 2016. Marino stated that he wanted to see forced treatment for non-violent drug offenders “in a secured hospital-type setting under the constant care of health professionals,” a “hospital-slash-prison, if you want to call it.” Such measures would impact marijuana users, only a minority of which meet the criteria of an addiction diagnosis.
Overall, marijuana is likely to take a back seat to opiates for Marino’s tenure as drug czar. He is a far cry from the staunchly anti-pot advocacy of other politicians in Trump’s cabinet, but he is also to the right of many Republican lawmakers when it comes to marijuana legalization and access.