Ever since the Nixon administration, the US drug czar has shaped the underlying policy to drugs in America. Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania had been eyed by Donald Trump as the newest drug czar for his administration, likely due to an early, flattering endorsement from the representative. Marino has had an anti-pot tracking record, voting against protections for marijuana in legalized states and medical marijuana for veterans. After an expose revealing how Marino has already worsened America’s opioid crisis, the rep has decided to retract himself from the drug czar position.
The controversy surrounds a bill passed in 2016, called the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which Marino took credit for at the time. The bill, which redefined the “imminent danger to the public health and safety” of controlled substances, was advertised as a measure to make it easier for doctors and pharmaceutical companies to supply medication to their patients. Its critics say, however, that the law more effectively froze the DEA from acting on suspicious shipments of drugs. Marino’s withdrawal, even in an administration that grunts off most controversy, may suggest which was the case.
The Washington Post and 60 Minutes expose reveal not only the influence big pharmaceutical companies have over Congress, but how much of Marino’s Effective Drug Enforcement Act has weakened the fight against opioid addiction. It’s a crisis set ablaze by the haphazard prescription of powerful painkillers by many of these powerful companies. The Post claims that many of these drugs were passed from the pharmacies to the black market. Lobbying groups put more than $100 million into seeing that the 2016 bill passed.
It isn’t just the bill itself that has put the heat on Marino. The Post revealed that Marino had received $100,000 in donations from pharma-affiliated groups and that his chief of staff, Bill Tighe, left to become a lobbyist for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores by the end of the year.
The timing couldn’t come at a worse time for Marino, as Trump is expected to be calling a state of emergency about the opioid crisis. Chuck Schumer said giving Marino the drug czar position would be like “putting the wolf in charge of the henhouse… The American people deserve someone totally committed to fighting the opioid crisis, not someone who has labored on behalf of the drug industry,” Schumer said. ” Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill has since introduced a bill to repeal Marino’s 2016 law.
News of Marino’s withdrawal came from, where else, Trump’s Twitter account. “Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar,” tweeted the president. “Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!”
While Tom Marino’s exclusion from the role of drug czar might be a sigh of relief for legalization hopefuls, it’s not the time to celebrate just yet. The Trump administration has still a history of vague statements about the status of marijuana. Despite all the progress and promise of the legalization movement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made plenty of public remarks underlying an interest in pushing back.