United States President Barack Obama's deputy drug czar admitted this week that weed isn't as harmful as alcohol, but in the meantime the administration still shows no sign it will alter its official stance on marijuana.
Michael Botticelli, the deputy director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, was speaking before Congress on Tuesday this week when he was roped into a debate on the dangerous effects — or lack thereof — of marijuana.
Botticelli was speaking before the US House of Representatives Oversight Committee when Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Raw Story's Eric Dolan first reported, incessantly hounded the official until he acknowledged that marijuana isn't as dangerous as other drugs outlawed by the federal government.
“How many people die from marijuana overdoses every year?” Connolly asked of Botticelli.
“I don’t know that I know. It is very rare,” Botticelli replied, according to Raw Story.
“Very rare. Now just contrast that with prescription drugs, unintentional deaths from prescription drugs, one American dies every 19 minutes,” Connolly continued. “Nothing comparable to marijuana.”
“Alcohol — hundreds of thousands of people die every year from alcohol related deaths: automobile [accidents], liver disease, esophageal cancer, blood poisoning. Is that incorrect?” he asked.
Botticelli acknowledged the lawmaker first during the first round of questioning, Dolan reported, but refused to directly answer once Connolly tried to compare weed to alcohol.
“I guess I’m sticking with the president — the head of your administration — who is making a different point,” Connolly reportedly fired back. ”He is making a point that is empirically true. That isn’t a normative statement, that marijuana is good or bad, but he was contrasting it with alcohol and empirically he is correct, is he not?”
“Is it not a scientific fact that there is nothing comparable with marijuana?” he asked further. ”And I’m not saying it is good or bad, but when we look at deaths and illnesses, alcohol, other hard drugs are certainly — even prescription drugs — are a threat to public health in a way that just isolated marijuana is not. Isn’t that a scientific fact? Or do you dispute that fact?”
At that point, Raw Story reported, Botticelli admitted, “I don’t dispute that fact.”
The deputy's remarks come only weeks after Pres. Obama acknowledged that he thinks it's “important” to see the recently successful efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in the states of Washington and Colorado move forward, notwithstanding a long-time federal prohibition against marijuana that remains in place nation-wide.
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” the president admitted in a New Yorker interview weeks earlier. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
"[W]e should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing,” Obama added.
Continuing that with respect to Washington and Colorado's new laws, the president said, "it's important for it to go forward because it's important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished."
According to CBS News, Botticelli said during the same oversight hearing on Tuesday that the administration remains pursuant of a “balanced” approach to drug laws, but does not accept efforts to legalize weed on a federal level.