Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Appearing at a House hearing on Tuesday, President Obama's deputy drug czar refused to directly answer a question on whether marijuana is more dangerous and addictive than methamphetamine or cocaine.
The hearing, called by Rep. John Mica (R-FL), was designed to offer legalization opponents in the Republican Party a chance to paint the President as weak on crime due to his recent comments in favor of marijuana decriminalization. Mica suggested that the President's statements are symptomatic of a "schizophrenic" policy toward substance abuse, adding: "We've gone from 'just say no,' then we had 'I didn't inhale,' and now we have 'just say maybe' or 'just go ahead.'"
Michael Botticelli, however -- who serves as deputy director for the Office on National Drug Control Policy -- likely came away with a different impression of Tuesday's discussion thanks to a prolonged grilling by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee.
The line of questioning from Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) was particularly amazing to watch, as he repeatedly asked Botticelli to clarify why marijuana is considered a Schedule I substance -- reserved for the most dangerous drugs -- when cocaine and methamphetamine are both in Schedule II.
Botticelli was completely unprepared for the question and repeatedly tried to sidestep it, but Blumenauer hung on like a pitbull.
"Your equivocation right there, being unable to answer something clearly and definitively when there is unquestionable evidence to the contrary, is why young people don't believe the propaganda, why they think [marijuana is] benign," the Oregon Democrat said.
It took half the hearing, and numerous similar questions from Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Steve Cohen (D-TN), before Botticelli budged from the government's official line that marijuana is more dangerous than cocaine or meth.
"It is ludicrous, absurd, crazy to have marijuana at same level as heroin," Cohen said. "Ask the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, if you could. Nobody dies from marijuana. People die from heroin."
In the end, Obama's deputy drug czar ultimately admitted that overdoses from marijuana are "rare" (even though they're actually non-existent), and agreed that alcohol and prescription pills pose a much greater threat to public health than smoking pot.
"If someone cannot simply agree that marijuana is less harmful than drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, they are not fit to be overseeing our nation's drug policy," Dan Riffle, policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in an advisory. "This is just more evidence that it's time for a new approach to marijuana policy in our nation's capital. Our marijuana policy should be guided by scientific evidence and not the antiquated views of some federal officials."