By Benjamin Goad - 02/04/14 02:10 PM EST
The Obama administration’s deputy drug czar said Tuesday that the White House opposes the legalization of marijuana, despite President Obama’s recent suggestion that some statewide decriminalization initiatives should go forward.
Michael Botticelli, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control, made clear in testimony before a House panel that the federal marijuana policy has not changed.
“This opposition is driven by medical science and research,” he said. “Above all, though, it bears emphasizing that the Department of Justice’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substance Act remains unchanged.”
Botticelli’s remarks come ahead of a hearing at which lawmakers are expected to question the Obama administration’s “mixed signals” on marijuana policy.
Obama, in a New Yorker magazine article published last month, said he believes marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and that it was “important” that the legalization of the drug in states “go forward” because it would prevent unfair penalties for some users.
Those comments seemed to contradict the National Drug Control Policy's official stance on the drug, which says marijuana can cause permanent brain damage and carries more carcinogens than tobacco smoke.
The White House said at the time — and Botticelli confirmed Tuesday — that there had been no policy change.
“The law enforcement officials who have sworn an oath to uphold Federal law will continue to pursue drug traffickers, drug dealers and transnational criminal organizations that weaken our communities and pose serious threats to our Nation,” Botticelli said in his prepared testimony.
Still, Attorney Gen. Eric Holder said two weeks ago that the Justice Department is working on new regulations that would give legal marijuana businesses access to banks currently prohibited from doing business with sellers of the drug.
The regulatory change comes in response to legalization initiatives in Colorado and elsewhere.
Tuesday’s hearing was slated to begin at 1:30 p.m., but was delayed by votes on the House floor.
Also scheduled to speak is Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who is behind a push to remove pot from the list of "Schedule I" drugs.