On Tuesday, the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Robert Patterson was grilled by lawmakers on Capitol Hill for the federal agency’s outdated stance on marijuana.
Rep. Steven Cohen from Tennessee pressed Patterson that the DEA must stay “current” over ever so changing attitudes in relation to Marijuana. There are up to 30 U.S. states that have legalized medical marijuana and nine others where the recreational use of cannabis is legal.
Cohen started: “The DEA has always been in a position of great importance—and it’s important that the DEA administrator stay current with what the people have shown by their actions and their statements what they believe is the right priorities for the DEA.”
Watch the full session:
A freedom issue
Cohen told him it is a “freedom issue” for people, adding that they think that marijuana should not be a federal law enforcement priority.
He then asked Patterson why marijuana is classified in the same drug scheduling category as more harmful drugs such as heroin.
“The reason why it remains in Schedule I is the science,” Patterson said. “The science?” Cohen asked, adding “I’m happy to hear that you believe in science, that’s refreshing.”
In response, Patterson expressed his fear, citing that the U.S. could learn a lot from Colorado’s “social experiment.”
In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize cannabis for recreational use.
Patterson said he was worried the country was “going down a bad path with marijuana” and that all of the national conversations around reform mainly had to do with revenue.
No valid response on pot-related deaths
Rep. Hank Johnson from Georgia grilled Patterson by asking how many Americans died from opioid-related overdoses among the 64,000 drug overdose deaths recorded in 2016.
Patterson said there about 44,000 opioid-related deaths. But when asked if there were marijuana-related overdose deaths, the DEA official said that he didn’t believe there were any officially recorded in 2016, but that he was “aware of a few deaths from marijuana.”
Meanwhile, the DEA had already admitted last year that there were no known deaths attributed to a marijuana overdose.
“You are aware of a few deaths from marijuana?” Johnson asked. At that point, Patterson said that he didn’t have materials in front of him to reference, but that he believed these deaths were caused by “adulterated” cannabis and said he ultimately understood the congressman’s point: that in terms of risk of overdose, marijuana and opioids are “not comparable.”
Another representative from Florida, Matt Gaetz, asked if “the position of the DEA that democratizing access to medical marijuana will add to the substance abuse problem in this country.”
Patterson said he feels “it’s a conversation that we have to have.”
But his later response showed that he was unaware of scientific literature showing marijuana’s medicinal benefits.