By Benjamin Goad - 02/04/14 05:19 PM EST
The chairman of a House committee took aim Tuesday at the Obama administration’s “schizophrenic approach” to marijuana policy, saying the White House is sending mixed signals on legalization.
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) seized on what were seen by many as conflicting statements from President Obama and his Office of National Drug Control Policy. At a hearing before the House Oversight Committee’s subpanel on Government Operations, Mica argued that the government’s “Just Say No” stance on drugs had been muddled.
His remarks follow testimony from Michael Botticelli, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control, who maintained that the White House has consistently opposed legalization efforts in states like Colorado and Washington.
“This administration has been consistent in its opposition to attempts to legalize marijuana and other drugs,” Botticelli testified. “And while voters in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the sale and distribution of marijuana in their states, the vote does not change the negative public health consequences of marijuana.”
The remarks appear to contradict statements made by Obama in a recent New Yorker magazine article, which quoted him as saying he believes marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol. He also said in the article it was “important” that the legalization of the drug in states “go forward” because it would prevent unfair penalties for some users.
White House press secretary Jay Carney later said the president sees marijuana as “a bad habit and a vice," and said Obama was concerned about "the disparities in the prosecution of our drug laws."
Several Democrats voiced similar concerns at Tuesday’s hearing. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and others pointed to research showing that enforcement of marijuana laws overwhelmingly targeted low-income neighborhoods and black youths.
“Middle class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot — poor kids do,” said Cummings, who noted he has seen the phenomenon play out in his home district. “I live in a neighborhood where "The Wire" was filmed.”
Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) grilled Botticelli on the current federal policy, which lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug — the same classification as LSD and heroin.
According to the government's drug classification for marijuana, it is considered more dangerous than cocaine or methamphetamine, which are considered Schedule II drugs.
Botticelli declined to answer questions about which drugs are most dangerous, prompting harsh words from Blumenauer, who is behind a push to remove pot from the list of Schedule I drugs.
“If a professional like you cannot answer clearly that meth is more dangerous than marijuana — which every kid on the street knows, which every parent knows — if you can’t answer that, then maybe that’s why we’re failing to educate people about the danger," he said.