Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., will be President Trump’s drug czar, according to a report from CBS News. Marino’s congressional voting record is that of a hard-liner on marijuana issues, and he recently said that he’d like to put nonviolent drug offenders in some sort of “hospital-slash-prison.”
As drug czar, Marino would oversee the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a branch of the White House that advises the president on drug policy issues. More than anything else, the office sets the tone of an administration’s drug policy. Under President Barack Obama, for instance, the office quite publicly retired the phrase “war on drugs,” preferring rhetoric centered more on public health than criminal justice.
Whether that approach continues is something of an open question. Former drug czars from a more militant drug policy era have been publicly agitating to “bring back the war on drugs.” Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is moving to put criminal justice back at the forefront of drug policy.
Marino appears to be in that camp as well, but his views are unlikely to influence the administration’s policy in the same ways Sessions’ views do. That’s because the drug czar’s office has traditionally played a limited role in setting policy –instead, it coordinates drug control strategy and funding across the federal government.
Still, with the selection of Marino, another piece of Trump’s drug control strategy falls into place. In Congress, Marino voted multiple times against a bipartisan measure to prevent the Justice Department from going after state-legal medical marijuana businesses. (The measure ultimately passed.)
Similarly, he voted against a measure to allow Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients, as well as against a separate measure to loosen federal restrictions on hemp, a non-psychoactive variant of the cannabis plant with potential industrial applications.
Those votes place Marino well to the right of dozens of his Republican House colleagues who supported the measures. He also voted against a measure that would loosen some restrictions on CBD oil, a non-psychoactive derivative of the cannabis plant that holds promise for treating severe forms of childhood epilepsy.
Asked about marijuana legalization last fall, Marino told a reporter that “the only way I would agree to consider legalizing marijuana is if we had a really in depth-medical scientific study. If it does help people one way or another, then produce it in pill form.” But, he added, “I think it’s a states’ rights issue.”
As a congressman, Marino called for a national program of mandatory inpatient substance abuse treatment for nonviolent drug offenders. “One treatment option I have advocated for years would be placing non-dealer, nonviolent drug abusers in a secured hospital-type setting under the constant care of health professionals,” he said at a hearing last year.
“Once the person agrees to plead guilty to possession, he or she will be placed in an intensive treatment program until experts determine that they should be released under intense supervision,” Marino explained. “If this is accomplished, then the charges are dropped against that person. The charges are only filed to have an incentive for that person to enter the hospital-slash-prison, if you want to call it.”
Forced inpatient treatment in a hospital-slash-prison would presumably include drug users who are not necessarily drug abusers. Only about 21 percent of current marijuana users meet diagnostic criteria for abuse or dependence, for instance. The other 79 percent do not need treatment for their drug use.
Marino acknowledged that implementing such a policy nationwide would “take a lot of money.”
Whether he’ll push for such a strategy as drug czar remains an open question. Beyond that, the office’s track record on meeting its drug policy goals is not the greatest. In 2010, the office set a series of ambitious goals to reduce overall drug use, overdoses and drugged-driving incidents. A 2015 Government Accountability Office report concluded that it failed to meet any of them.