DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Publicly lying about pot isn’t as easy as it used to be.
That’s the lesson White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (aka the Drug Czar’s office) Deputy Director Michael Botticelli learned earlier this week when he testified before U.S. House Subcommittee on Government Relations. Armed with what appeared to be crib notes from the days of Reefer Madness, Botticelli’s spurious anti-pot testimony immediately became the subject of Internet video fodder and mainstream media criticism. Even more tellingly, Botticelli’s comments drew stern rebukes from federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
In past years, public testimony from an anti-drug official before a relatively obscure federal subcommittee would have gone largely unnoticed; at best, reporters, pundits, and lawmakers alike would have responded to Botticelli’s reefer rhetoric with a collective yawn.
But that was then and this is now. Today, 58 percent of the public nationwide endorses legalizing marijuana and the President of the United States publicly acknowledges that the herb is demonstrably safer than alcohol. Twenty states and the District of Columbia permit the use of medicinal marijuana. Two states regulate the use, production and retail of cannabis to those over age 21 and others are poised to do so before year’s end. In this environment, espousing pot propaganda from past years’ playbooks just isn’t going to cut it.
That is not to say Botticelli didn’t try his best to duck and dodge. He repeatedly denied answering questions from Democrat Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Steve Cohen (D-TN) regarding the comparative harms of marijuana and alcohol — “You have to look at the totality of harm associated with this substance,” he responded — before finally conceding that the President’s assertion about pot posing fewer harms than booze is, in fact, accurate. He equivocated in response to inquiries from Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer as to whether his office knew of any incidences of lethal marijuana overdoses, before sheepishly acknowledging that he wasn’t aware of any. (“I don’t know that I know [of any],” he finally admitted.)