President-elect Donald Trump with retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, right, on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, in Bedminster, N.J.. (Carolyn Kaster, The Associated Press)

Homeland Security Sec: “Marijuana is not a factor” in war on drugs

John Kelly told "Meet the Press" that "arresting a lot of users" wasn't the right solution to the country's drug problems

Two high ranking Trump administration officials; two vastly different positions on marijuana.

Update: Homeland Security Sec. Kelly says DHA, TSA, ICE will “take action” against marijuana

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to revive the war on drugs, and a crackdown on weed appears to be a major part of that. He is expected to pursue harsher punishments for using and distributing marijuana, which were relaxed under President Trump’s predecessor, as The Washington Post’s Sari Horowitz has reported. “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” Sessions opined last year.

It’s a far cry from what Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said about the drug Sunday.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kelly told host Chuck Todd that marijuana was “not a factor” in the war on drugs and argued that “arresting a lot of users” wasn’t the right solution to the country’s drug problems.

Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, was discussing border enforcement when Todd asked him if legalizing marijuana would help or hurt his efforts to control the flow of drugs into the United States.

“Yeah, marijuana is not a factor in the drug war,” Kelly said.

He continued: “It’s three things. Methamphetamine. Almost all produced in Mexico. Heroin. Virtually all produced in Mexico. And cocaine that comes up from further south.”

Those three drugs, Kelly added, had killed more than 50,000 people in the United States in 2015, along with opiates, and had cost the country some $250 billion.

Before joining the Trump administration, Kelly served as the head of U.S. Southern Command, overseeing security operations for Central America, South America and the Caribbean. In that role, he confronted issues related to the trafficking of narcotics, including heroin and cocaine, into the United States.

Kelly made similar remarks on marijuana in a November interview with MilitaryTimes. He told the publication he was opposed to illegal and recreational drug use generally, and was critical of marijuana legalization, but said he supported using pot for medical purposes.

“Whether it’s veterans or anyone else, if it helps those people, then fine,” he said. “Medicine is medicine.”

On that issue, he could hardly be more removed from Sessions, who has balked at the idea that marijuana could be used as a painkiller or treatment for opioid addiction.

“I’ve heard people say we could solve our heroin problem with marijuana,” he said in a speech last month. “How stupid is that?”

Sessions later told reporters he believed “medical marijuana has been hyped, maybe too much,” as The Post reported. In the same speech, he said his office may reexamine Obama administration policies that left marijuana legalization in the hands of states.

Unlike Sessions, Kelly doesn’t have much say in how the United States prosecutes drug offenders. But in his “Meet the Press” appearance Sunday, he argued in favor of reducing demand for drugs rather than punishing drug users.

“The solution is not arresting a lot of users,” he said. “The solution is a comprehensive drug demand reduction program in the United States that involves every man and woman of goodwill. And then rehabilitation. And then law enforcement. And then getting at the poppy fields and the coca fields in the south.”