After months of speculation, President Donald Trump apparently has found drug czar. Congressman Tom Marino, an early and vocal supporter of Trump’s run for the White House, reportedly will be nominated director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
According to CBS, the first news outlet to break the news of the pending announcement, reported that “Marino is in the final stages of completing his paperwork and an official announcement is forthcoming.” If true, Marino will resign from his seat in the House, which he has held since 2011.
The position is not a cabinet post, but requires a Senate confirmation. Historically, the ONDCP advises the executive branch on drug-control issues and coordinates activities to combat drug-related issues. The agency’s charter includes fighting to reduce illicit drug use, putting a stop illegal narcotic manufacturing and trafficking, reducing drug-related crime and violence, and improving drug-related health consequences.
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“My understanding is that Tom has a deep understanding of the issue and is excited to get started,” Kevin Sabet, who served for three presidents as an ONDCP adviser, told CBS News.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a leading cannabis advocacy group, gives Marino a “D” grade for his positions. The former prosecutor has a long record of voting against progressive marijuana legislation, including opposing amendments that would have allowed Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend cannabis to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, another pro-cannabis advocacy organization, opposes Marino for the job. According to Capecchi:
“We are disappointed but not at all surprised to hear a marijuana prohibitionist is being selected as the next drug czar. After all, whoever fills the position is required by law to oppose any attempts to legalize the use of marijuana for any purpose.
“Despite a steady stream of anti-marijuana drug czars over the past several decades, 28 states have legalized marijuana for medical use and eight states have enacted laws regulating it for adult use. We expect that trend to continue regardless of who the next drug czar is.
“President Trump repeatedly said he believes states should be able to determine their own marijuana policies, and the vast majority of Americans agree. We remain hopeful that the administration will respect state marijuana laws. It is also critical that Congress take action to ease the tension that exists between state and federal marijuana laws.”
Based on his record and his public statements, Marino has focused more on the opioid epidemic than marijuana use. Last year, he was appointed to serve on the House’s bipartisan committee charged with tackling the opioid crisis. And as the drug czar, it would appear Marino’s focus would remain on this major national issue.
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When he ran for re-election last year, Marino was asked by a reporter for the Williamsport Sun-Gazette if marijuana “should marijuana be legalized on a national level, either for medical or recreational use.” Here is his response:
“The only way I would agree to consider legalizing marijuana is if we had a really in depth-medical scientific study. If it does help people one way or another, then produce it in pill form … You can’t smoke it for this, but you take a pill. But don’t make an excuse because you want to smoke marijuana. Look what’s happening to states and cities who are legalizing it. They are running into a lot of problems.
“I’m a states’ rights guy. The less federal government in my life, the best. I think it’s a states’ right issue. If Pennsylvania passes it… and if I don’t like it, I can pick up and move.
“But I don’t agree with the smoking part of it.”
Marino easily defeated Mike Molesevich, his Democratic challenger, in the November election with more than 70 percent of the vote. Trump won every county in Marino’s district and collected 60 percent of the vote there.