Drug Czar Admits That Feds Have Been Slow To Support Marijuana Research

By John Lavitt 10/14/16

Although Botticelli wants to increase access to marijuana for researchers, he remains 100% against the legalization movement.

Drug Czar Admits That Feds Have Been Slow To Support Marijuana Research
ONDCP Director Michael Botticelli Photo: via YouTube

As the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Drug Czar Michael Botticelli has been refreshingly honest in the face of criticism of the federal government’s efforts in regards to marijuana research.

During a recent interview with Politico’s Pulse Check podcast, Botticelli discussed the problematic evolution of the federal government’s relationship with marijuana. Since marijuana remains a Schedule I drug (a category reserved for the "most dangerous" drugs) and any research on it must be approved by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), delays in study approvals have resulted in a stagnation in marijuana research.

Admitting the current difficulties, Botticelli said, “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. 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.”

The DEA refuses to bend when it comes to the designation of marijuana as a Schedule I substance, but recently pulled back one major limitation of cannabis research. In August, the DEA lifted the University of Mississippi's monopoly on marijuana cultivation for research. Until now, the university was the sole provider of marijuana for research studies. 

Beyond leading to a tremendous lack in the diversity of product offerings, a single provider means everyone doing research is basically studying the same strains of marijuana. Given the incredible flourishing in the marijuana growth industry since the legalization movement took hold, the study offerings do not reflect the reality of the marketplace. 

Beyond the lack of diversity, the extremity of the Schedule I drug designation means any research project must jump through numerous additional hoops to get approved. The obstacles installed by the federal government tend to discourage researchers from conducting studies that should be done in order to demonstrate either the dangers or the benefits of cannabis. Such studies are needed since the drug is now being used more widely and with less legal consequences than ever before. 

As a recovering substance user who used both marijuana and cocaine in his younger days, Botticelli has a deeper understanding of the challenges at hand than any other drug czar before him. For example, beyond discussing marijuana, he also remarked on the racial prejudices that stain the "drug war" and has led to disproportionately harsh prison sentences.

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

At the same time, the ONDCP’s policy toward the legalization of marijuana remains steadfast. Although Botticelli wants to increase access to marijuana for researchers, he is 100% against the legalization movement. In the ONDCP section of the White House website, it clearly states:

"Marijuana is a topic of significant public discourse in the United States … Confusing messages being presented by popular culture, media, proponents of 'medical' marijuana, and political campaigns to legalize all marijuana use perpetuate the false notion that marijuana is harmless. This significantly diminishes efforts to keep our young people drug free and hampers the struggle of those recovering from substance use disorders.

"The Administration steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana and other drugs because legalization would increase the availability and use of illicit drugs, and pose significant health and safety risks to all Americans, particularly young people."

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.