Michael Botticelli, the nation's drug czar, recently acknowledged that the government hasn't fully supported marijuana research. Pictured: Botticelli testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 4, 2015. (Cliff Owen, Associated Press file)

U.S. drug czar: The feds have dragged their feet on pot research

The U.S. government hasn’t really done what it could to further medical marijuana research, the nation’s drug czar says.

Michael Botticelli, the director of national drug control policy for the Obama administration, recently joined Politico’s “Pulse Check” podcast to share his thoughts on the “war on drugs,” addiction and how the government’s relationship with marijuana has evolved.

“I do think it’s a somewhat fair criticism that the government hasn’t fully supported research to really investigate what’s the potential therapeutic value,” Botticelli says. “And I think the administration, the (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) and others have done a number of things to continue to promote good scientific research and diminish some of the barriers that we’ve heard from the research community.”

Earlier this year, the DEA held fast on rescheduling marijuana — keeping it a Schedule I substance — but eased some barriers to research by allowing more entities and researchers the opportunity to grow or obtain cannabis for study. Until now, the University of Mississippi has effectively had a monopoly on the cultivation of marijuana for federal research.

That move doesn’t ease all blockades to research, reported Marijuana.com, which first reported on Botticelli’s marijuana-centric comments:

For example, just by virtue of marijuana’s remaining a Schedule I drug, research on the drug still needs to undergo “additional steps” that other drug inquiries don’t need to take, according to Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Speaking of FDA, news outlet ATTN: obtained previously unreleased documents last week showing that the agency pushed internally for the end of the (U.S. Public Health Service) review and cultivation monopoly prior to the changes being announced.

Botticelli’s Politico interview centered mostly on addiction issues, opioid- and heroin-related deaths, and how the the government and law enforcement have responded.

Drug policy reform and criminal justice reform go hand in hand, he says. And “the previous policy and practice of arresting and incarcerating people … doesn’t work.” In Botticelli’s words:

But with opioid- and heroin-related deaths rising, it’s clear that aggressive prosecution and military-style interventions didn’t win the drug war. Instead, it discouraged treatment, and it helped contribute to simmering tensions in the African-American community over whether police target them unfairly.

“It’s very clear that that sort of focus and policy of the past had a disproportionate impact on people of color,” Botticelli said. “We need to acknowledge that, and we now have an opportunity on drug policy reform and this epidemic to undo that.”