Pubdate: Thu, 06 Feb 2014
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Debra J. Saunders


The apparent heroin overdose death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman
already has become a hockey puck in the war over the war on drugs.
During a House subcommittee hearing on federal marijuana policy on
Tuesday, critics of the war on drugs hammered a White House drug
official for putting too much emphasis on marijuana when Washington
instead should focus on dangerous drugs that actually kill users.

"What is more dangerous, and what is more addictive?" Rep. Earl
Blumenauer, D-Ore., asked the White House deputy director of drug
control policy, Michael Botticelli, methamphetamine and cocaine or

"I think that conversation minimizes the harm," Botticelli sort of

"How many people die from marijuana overdoses every year?" Rep. Gerry
Connolly, D-Va., inquired.

Botticelli said he didn't know, that fatal marijuana overdoses are
"very rare," but he said that people have to look at "the totality of
harm that's associated with a substance." Even if "marijuana doesn't
have the lethality and the overdose potential that heroin or alcohol
does," there are "significant health consequences that are associated
with the drug."

Blumenauer put together a paper that examined deaths due to alcohol
abuse - 80,000 a year - and tobacco use - 400,000 annually. He
observed that Washington has been able to wage successful campaigns to
decrease smoking "without locking people up."

Antismoking campaigns have worked because they are fact-based - unlike
the Controlled Substances Act, which places marijuana in the same
Schedule 1 category as heroin, a drug that can kill. So why not change
the law? Botticelli argued that he has met with families devastated by
addiction and parents whose children died from drug overdoses. They
cannot understand why states have legalized medical and recreational
marijuana. They believe, said Botticelli, that "legalizing marijuana
sends the absolute worst message to our youth."

Their children didn't overdose on marijuana, countered Rep. Steve
Cohen, D-Tenn. "It is ludicrous, absurd, crazy to have marijuana in
the same level as heroin," quoth Cohen. "Ask the late Philip Seymour
Hoffman, if you could. Nobody dies from marijuana. People die from
heroin. And every second we spend in this country trying to enforce
marijuana laws is a second that we're not enforcing heroin laws."

I should note that committee Republicans hit President Obama for not
being tough enough on marijuana. Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., groused
about Obama's "schizophrenic" approach.

On the one hand, the president recently told the New Yorker he
considers marijuana to be no more dangerous than alcohol and wants
Washington and Colorado ballot measures that legalized recreational
marijuana to proceed. On the other hand, the administration has
continued to prosecute medical marijuana dispensers in the 21 states
that legalized medical marijuana.

The answer to the "schizophrenic" charge would be for Obama to direct
Attorney General Eric Holder to remove marijuana from the list of
Schedule 1 drugs. Congress also could change the law, but Blumenauer
spokesman Patrick Malone noted that with the GOP in control of the
House, that's unlikely: "So that leaves us with the administrative
route. The president has said that he's going to use his executive
powers to do what he can to effect change. Well, here is an
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