The nation's top drug official went on CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday night and proclaimed the old War on Drugs a failure. Michael Botticelli, who serves as the director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, also said he wants to reform and refocus U.S. drug policy.
When asked by "60 Minutes" host Scott Pelley if the costly drug war that has been in place for more than 40 years had been wrong, Botticelli had blunt words for what he called the "failed policies and failed practices" of the past, noting that those policies were largely responsible for the nation's mass incarceration epidemic.
"It has been all wrong," he said, noting that locking up drug offenders had not only contributed to a costly, bloated prison system, but had also failed to curtail Americans' drug habit.
"We can't arrest and incarcerate addiction out of people. Not only do I think it's really inhumane, but it's ineffective, and it cost us billions upon billions of dollars to keep doing this."
The Director of National Drug Control Policy position, sometimes called the "drug czar," is responsible for the agency that sets budgets for national drug policies, works with the governments of foreign countries with robust drug exports, and devises strategy for health and law enforcement agencies to combat addiction and drug abuse. Botticelli, who began as acting director just under one year ago, is himself a recovering alcoholic—the first person in substance-abuse recovery to hold the office, according to the New York Times.
On "60 Minutes," Botticelli emphasized the need to recast drug addiction as a problem that cannot be treated by simply locking users up. "We've learned addiction is a brain disease. This is not a moral failing. This is not about bad people who are choosing to continue to use drugs because they lack will power," he said, noting the dangers of the overuse and over-prescribing of opioid prescription pain medication.
"You know, we don't expect people with cancer to just stop having cancer."
Check out the full CBS interview here.
But as progressive as Botticelli came across on drug reform on the program, he was apprehensive to put his support behind the legalization of marijuana, explaining that legalized drugs, after all, kill over half a million Americans annually. He also said that legalizing marijuana could send the wrong signals to users—that the drug is safe and not addictive.
"So, we know that about one in nine people who use marijuana become addicted to marijuana. It's been associated with poor academic performance, in exacerbating mental health conditions linked to lower IQ," he said, adding that he fears states becoming co-dependent on "tax revenue that's often based on bad public health policy."
As ATTN: has reported, research indicates that marijuana is significantly less addictive than other legal substances such as alcohol or cigarettes, which foster chemical dependencies, not necessarily psychological ones. Other research has called into question the correlation between consuming marijuana and killing off brain cells.