President Donald Trump is expected to soon nominate Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (colloquially referred to as the “drug czar”).
Marino, a former prosecutor with no background in health or treatment, supports a punitive, 1980s style approach to drugs, including mass incarceration and coerced treatment - even for marijuana. Drug Policy Action, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, gave him an “F” in their 2016 congressional voter guide.
He is a disastrous choice and must be opposed.
As a U.S. Attorney, Marino showed preferential treatment for a friend convicted of cocaine offenses, while showing little mercy for others caught up in the criminal justice system. In Congress, Marino voted against the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibits the Department of Justice from undermining state medical marijuana laws. He has called for “hospital-slash-prison” facilities where people caught possessing marijuana or other drugs would be forcibly detained.
Studies show that coerced treatment rarely works. Treatment works best when it is voluntary and meets the individual needs of the person struggling with substance-related issues. A Human Rights Watch report found that hospital-prison policies in China, Cambodia and other Southeast Asia countries led to enormous human rights violations. An evaluation by the Drug Policy Alliance of existing coercive drug courts in the U.S. found enormous problems with little positive impact. Combined with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s support for executing drug traffickers the Trump Administration could move U.S. drug policy in horrific, un-American directions.
The nomination of Marino would represent yet another about-face by President Trump. Earlier this year the Trump Administration signaled that it would seek to eliminate the drug czar’s office, determining that it was wasteful. On the campaign trail Trump said that marijuana should be a state issue and that he supports medical marijuana “100 percent,” positions that Marino holds the opposite views on.
The nomination of Marino for drug czar also would come at a critical time in U.S. drug policy. Currently, 28 states have legalized marijuana for medical use. Eight states have legalized marijuana for non-medical use. Polls show a majority of voters believe marijuana should be legalized like alcohol; a super-majority believes the federal government should let states set their own marijuana policies without federal interference. 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 American people are moving in one direction and the Trump Administration is moving in another. There are few hard-core supporters of the failed war on drugs left, but those that are left seem to all be getting jobs in the Administration. America can do much better. Our nation needs a drug czar that wants to treat drug use as a health issue, not someone who wants to double down on mass incarceration.
President Trump shouldn’t nominate Marino for drug czar and Senators should vote against confirming him if he is nominated.
Bill Piper is senior director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. Follow him on Twitter @billjpiper.