The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has announced the first meeting of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. An Executive Order signed by President Trump on March 29, 2017 chartered the Commission to “obtain advice and recommendations for the President regarding drug issues.” Acting solely as an “advisory body,” the President’s Commission must submit their final conclusions by October 1, 2017.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was selected by Trump to lead the Commission. Christie’s efforts to eradicate the opioid epidemic in New Jersey and across the United States, including a bill that placed the fiscal responsibility of addiction treatment on health insurance companies and limited the number of painkillers a doctor could prescribe, have been applauded by both sides of the aisle. Joining Christie on the Commission will be Governors Charlie Baker (R-Massachusetts) and Roy Cooper (D-North Carolina), former Congressman and recovering addict Patrick Kennedy, and Harvard Medical School researcher Bertha Madras.
Though Chris Christie is on the record as not being a fan of full marijuana legalization, he does wholeheartedly support medical legislation reform. Christie has been very progressive in his stance on addiction, leading the charge in the fight to change public perception of addiction in hopes of treating it as a medical issue rather than a criminal justice one. During Christie’s State of the State speech last year, he said, “Instead of prosecuting a failed war on drugs–a war on our own citizens–we’ve classified drug addiction as the illness it truly is, and worked to treat and rehabilitate some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Last year alone I signed ten new laws to address this issue, and today we’re going to talk about the next steps we need to take to continue making progress.”
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, like Chris Christie, opposes recreational laws but is a firm supporter of medical marijuana. The Republican leader of the Commonwealth has gone on the record as saying he has smoked cannabis “so many times I can’t remember.” Though Governor Baker has an abysmal “F” rating from legalization advocacy group NORML, he has been a staunch supporter of eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug-related crimes.
Newly-elected North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is moving slowly on marijuana legalization, as he wants to study the already-legal markets around the United States for best practices. Comparatively, Cooper’s predecessor Pat McCrory was steadfast in his opposition to cannabis legalization with the exception of CBD in cases of Epilepsy.
Former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy had a promising career in politics before it was derailed due to his battles with addiction and Bipolar disorder. Kennedy told David Axelrod on “The Axe Files” podcast, “OxyContin was what I used for years, but I’m an addict so it doesn’t matter what it is. I used benzodiazepines, alcohol, stimulants, Adderall, cocaine, you name it.” Kennedy is categorized by NORML as “pro-drug-reform” but he did vote against medical marijuana implementation in the District of Columbia.
The commission is rounded out by one non-politician, Bertha Madras, a former Deputy Director of Demand Reduction for the ONDCP and current psychobiology researcher at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Though one would expect such an elite intellectual to approach alternative medicines that have shown at least some strong signs of efficacy with an open mind, Madras is firm in her position that marijuana is not a medicine and should remain in Schedule I. Madras believes that “dispensary marijuana” has less than ideal quality control, not to mention a lack of clear dosing guidelines that other pharmaceuticals boast.
Per the Executive Order from President Trump, the Commission’s primary responsibilities will include determining what addiction treatment services are available to people struggling nationwide, establishing effective prevention solutions on the street and prescription levels, determining whether anti-drug educational marketing is actually impactful, and evaluating which federal programs aimed at drug addiction treatment and prevention need retooling.
The Commission will hold their inaugural two-hour meeting on Friday, June 16, 2017, at 12:30 p.m. EST. The public will be able to watch the first meeting via live stream.
While the resources the United States Government spent on drug-related law enforcement saw a slight dip year-over-year in 2017, the amount invested in prevention and treatment continues to rise, a strong sign of the changing times as more and more lawmakers see the light on the failed War on Drugs.
In addition to the goals the Commission is already tasked with completing, exploring how legalized cannabis markets have managed to lower not only a number of drug overdoses but the overall prescriptions written would be invaluable in finally squashing the opioid epidemic in America once and for all. There is emerging research on the use of cannabis as an aide in opiate addiction recovery, so investigating the wide applicability of the practice could hold the answer to many of the Commission’s pending problems.
Photo courtesy of Michael Vadon