President Obama’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was on the verge of pushing for nationwide marijuana decriminalization, but reports show those plans were quickly buried for a variety of political reasons.
A former official with the ONDCP recently told the Huffington Post that during President Obama’s first term, the office wanted to make federal marijuana laws less restrictive by eliminating the criminal penalties associated with minor marijuana possession. However, there were snags that prevented the office from going for it.
For starters, the office was worried that pushing for decriminalization would take up too much time, preventing officials from dealing with the opioid problem. But the conundrum that perhaps truly damned the idea altogether was the fact that coming out publicly in support of anything associated with marijuana would conflict with the very law that established the ONDCP.
The ONDCP, otherwise known as the office of the drug czar, has only been around for about 30 years. The office was created in 1988 in an effort to thwart attempts to legalize illegal substances in the United States, giving its soldiers strict orders to never “surrender in the War on Drugs.”
The ONDCP was eventually forced to uphold some additional policies, including never allowing federal funds to be used for research projects associated with Schedule I drugs, as well as making it their mission to fight “any attempt to legalize” marijuana.
Although the office never intended to get behind full-scale legalization, former ONDCP employees say that putting any support whatsoever into the idea of a nation that no longer locks up its pot offenders was such a risky step that it had to be squashed—never to be discussed again, until now.
“It forced the office to take a policy position that it may or may not agree to,” Michael Botticelli, the former director of the ONDCP, told HuffPost.
“You have to figure out if the juice is worth the squeeze,” he added.
This push for federal decriminalization could have potentially influenced additional states and local jurisdictions to adapt to this reform. It also could have prevented Trump’s Justice Department from going old school when it comes to handling drug crimes.
Just weeks ago, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed federal prosecutors to seek the maximum penalty when dealing with drug cases—including those pertaining to marijuana.
Some of the latest statistics from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) show that millions of small-time pot offenders could be saved from the criminal justice system if marijuana possession was not considered a crime.