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Trump Taps Tom Marino as Drug Czar. That’s Good (and Bad) for Legalization

Tom Marino, R-Pa. left, watches as President-elect Donald Trump, right, departs a rally in Hershey, Pa., Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (Matt Rourke/AP)

News that US Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) is expected to head President Donald Trump’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), as CBS News reported today, should come as a bit of a relief to many in the legal cannabis industry.

He's not pro-legalization, but he's also no Chris Christie when it comes to cannabis.

After all, Trump’s past appointments in areas that touch on drug issues have tended to favor politicians with outspoken records against marijuana legalization. Attorney General Jeff Sessions famously stated that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was recently appointed chair of a presidential commission to fight opioid abuse, has long been an ardent prohibitionist.

If his past record is any indication, however, Marino would likely focus most of his energy on opioids, which claimed the lives of more than 50,000 Americans in 2016. A year ago he led an effort to move opioid legislation through the House, and he put out this Instagram post to mark the bill’s final passage:

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As the director of ONDCP—a role informally dubbed the “drug czar”—Marino would steer the administration’s policies on drug control. He doesn’t seem particularly interested in marijuana issues. In April 2016, as Pennsylvania legislators were debating a medical marijuana legalization measure that ultimately became law, PennLive polled various state leaders about their stand on the issue. Marino declined to respond.

Marino’s position on opioids seems to favor tougher enforcement at the street level, and more leniency for drug manufacturers.  A Washington Post investigation noted that his 2016 legislation made it more difficult to prosecute pharmaceutical companies feeding the nation’s opioid crisis.

Marino may be more skeptical of the idea that medical cannabis can be part of the solution to the nation’s opioid crisis.

Americans are becoming increasingly aware of studies showing that states with legal medical marijuana have lower rates of opioid abuse. Marino steps into that debate as a leader who has in the past embraced and defended pharmaceutical companies. He may thus be more skeptical of the idea that medical cannabis can be part of the solution to the nation’s opioid crisis.

Sessions has expressed similar doubts. “I’m astonished to hear people suggest we can solve our heroin crisis—have you heard this?—by having more marijuana,” he said last month. “I mean, how stupid is that! Give me a break!”

If formally appointed, Marino would unseat Richard Baum, who was just appointed two weeks ago as acting head of the ONCDP. It’s unclear whether Baum will stay on as Marino’s deputy or leave the office entirely.

Marino, a Republican, was an early endorser of then-candidate Trump in February 2016. “I will be voting for him” because he is “someone who will put the American people before personal gain and self-promotion,” Marino wrote in an op-ed that appeared later in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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