With more than half of federal prisoners serving time on drug charges, the Obama administration says it's time to free more low-level drug offenders. “This is where you can help,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole told the New York State Bar Association, urging lawyers to assist prisoners in creating “well-prepared petitions” to apply for executive clemency, McClatchy Newspapers report. While the Justice Department promotes the plan, the Obama team is making it clear that it has no interest in changing the federal law that sends many nonviolent drug offenders to prison in the first place: the one that outlaws marijuana. On Tuesday, deputy drug czar Michael Botticelli told the House Subcommittee on Government Operations that while the administration wants to help more marijuana offenders get treatment, it won't move to legalize the drug. “This opposition is driven by medical science and research,” he said.
For critics, it's another example of the confusion that's passing for marijuana policy these days in Washington. Pressure is rising on President Obama and his advisers to deliver a consistent message. Legalization opponents say the president should listen to his drug and science experts, who warn that marijuana is highly addictive and a threat to the developing brains of teenagers. Pro-pot backers want the president to cancel marijuana's classification as a Schedule 1 narcotic – the same category as heroin and LSD. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have approved use of marijuana as medicine and that many studies have shown that marijuana is far less addictive and unhealthy than other drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. “It is ludicrous, absurd, crazy to have marijuana at the same level as heroin,” Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee told Botticelli. “Ask the late Philip Seymour Hoffman” – who died of an apparent heroin overdose Sunday in New York – “if you could. Nobody dies from marijuana; people die from heroin.” Rep. John Mica (R-FL), committee chairman, complained that the president and his team are “going in different directions.”