Like most everything else he touches, the art of the “news dump”—the delivery (or more aptly, deposit) of ill tidings when everyone’s attention is elsewhere, most often on a Friday night—has been taken to new depths by first asshole Donald Trump.
To deliver a presidential pardon (his first) to fomer Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the cartoonish sadist who took deep pride in modeling his jail after a concentration camp, Trump ducked and cowered behind the awesome force of a category 4 hurricane. The ensuing Biblical downpour inundating the country’s fourth-largest metro area turned out to be enough cover for the president to also part ways with a top adviser (who happens to be a card-carrying member of a fascist organization) and to roll out initial plans to ban transgender people from serving in the military. What a turnout.
On Saturday, with plans to announce the end of the Obama-era policy that spared young Americans from deportation in the works (an issue Trump lacked the comportment to address in person, choosing instead to send out Jeff Sessions, wearing a baleful grin), the Trump Train dropped another load on our doorsteps before sprinting away: Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino is yet again the president’s choice to become the next “drug czar.”
Among the many positions in the federal government that remain unfilled as the anniversary of Trump’s election nears, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is without a permanent leader. That’s a bad look when the people who put you in office are dying en masse from drug overdoses.
In the spring, Trump briefly flirted with essentially eliminating the ONDCP—proposing to cut its budget by 94 percent before backing away, as if the suggestion had never been made—before relenting.
Marino’s path towards running the outfit followed a similarly erratic path. The seeming front-runner for the job, a political plum for being one of the first Republicans to cash in his scruples and support Trump, Marino backed away in May, ostensibly because he had an illness in the family—and not because he was forced to quit his job as a U.S. attorney for providing a convicted felon a reference, nor because, as a Tea Party congressman, he wrote legislation for the pharmaceutical industry that made opiates easier to distribute.
As we reported in May, Marino is a few hues of green away from being a full-on Pepe meme. He’s a big fan of Sessions’ turn towards a punitive, prison-focused model for criminal justice, has talked openly about imprisoning marijuana users—users, not sellers—and has consistently voted against any bill remotely smelling of drug-policy reform in Congress, while all along pocketing most of his campaign cash from pharmaceutical interests.
In other words, the exact kind of guy Donald Trump thinks should be setting his official drug policy.
Marino’s appointment needs to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which is back in session now, following its summer recess. Considering Sessions, Betsy DeVos and other far less qualified individuals made it through that process, and considering the laundry list of other more pressing issues before that august body, it’s hard to see too many senators spending too much time on Marino.
There’s also the issue of the ONDCP itself.
No matter who runs it, it will be a bulwark against cannabis legalization or most efforts at harm reduction, no matter how much worse the opiate crisis becomes. By act of Congress, ONDCP must oppose all efforts to legalize cannabis or any other Schedule I narcotic. It’s no accident that the “deeply flawed” reports that Sessions is using in an attempt to justify cracking down on state-legal cannabis in Oregon, Washington and Colorado came from ONDCP efforts.
Make no mistake: Marino is a rank crony, a bagman for the pill industry that got us into this mess and a yes-man for the prison-industrial complex. The big problem is that for the moment, he is the least of our many problems and can sneak into a position where he can do profound damage without attracting much notice.