Despite substantial scientific evidence that marijuana is not as harmful as alcohol, many law enforcement officials continue to pretend otherwise. Add to that list Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee for attorney general.
In response to a question at her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Ms. Lynch pointedly disagreed with Mr. Obama who once told David Remnick of The New Yorker that he didn’t think ingesting the drug was more dangerous than drinking. She said that Mr. Obama was “speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion.” She also said that she did not support marijuana’s legalization.
Ms. Lynch’s statements are not all that surprising considering the fact that she spent much of her career as a federal prosecutor in the heady days of the “war on drugs.” Other officials in law enforcement including the current head of the Drug Enforcement Administration hold similar views.
But as my colleague Philip Boffey wrote in an editorial in July, the scientific evidence is not on Ms. Lynch’s side. In 2010, for example, a British scientific committee said that alcohol was the most harmful to users and society of the 20 drugs it studied; marijuana ranked eighth, behind heroin, cocaine and tobacco.
Ms. Lynch’s views are important because the Department of Justice, which she will head if confirmed, said in 2013 that it would not interfere with the legalization of cannabis in Colorado and Washington as long as those states met several conditions. Since then Oregon and Alaska have also legalized recreational use and the District of Columbia legalized the possession of small amounts.
In her hearing, Ms. Lynch did not say if she would try to reverse the department’s policy toward state legalization. But she emphasized that under the existing policy federal officials could still pursue cases to make sure marijuana was not distributed to children, and crack down on transportation of the drug across state lines to places where the drug was not legal.
Ms. Lynch’s statements serve as a reminder that the Obama administration’s policy on marijuana could easily be reversed. It would make much more sense for the administration or Congress to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act’s Schedule I and let states decide whether they want to permit its use.
January 29, 2015
Vikas Bajaj | The New York Times