Within the space of two days, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly has seemingly toughened his stance on marijuana. After saying it’s “not a factor” in the drug war in a TV appearance Sunday, Kelly on Tuesday called it a “potentially dangerous gateway drug” and said he’d still be tracking its distribution.
“Let me be clear about marijuana: It is a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs,” he said in a speech at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. Kelly added that DHS will continue to “investigate marijuana’s illegal pathways along the network into the U.S., its distribution within the homeland, and will arrest those involved in the drug trade according to federal law.
It was a switch from what he’d said Sunday when he told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd that marijuana was “not a factor” in the drug war. “[The drug war is focused on] three things: methamphetamine, almost all produced in Mexico; heroin, virtually all produced in Mexico; and cocaine, that comes up from further south.” He’d suggested the solution to fighting drug use in America is “not arresting a lot of users” but rather a “comprehensive drug-demand-reduction program” — a position that aligns with the Obama administration’s “second chances” strategy, which aimed at fairer and lighter sentences for low-level drug offenders.
Kelly’s latest stance gets closer to that of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has said marijuana is only “slightly less awful” than heroin.
As the nation’s top cop, Sessions has a greater mandate over drug enforcement and has organized a special task force to review existing policies. The special unit will update charging and sentencing procedures and look to “ensure consistency” with the Trump administration’s broader goals and priorities of boosting public safety.
In recent remarks Sessions said, “I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store,” he said in March. “And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”
Sessions is resurrecting the Reagan-era “war on drugs” practices of the late 1980s and ’90s, with emphasis on policing cross-border imports of substances like marijuana, which have been closely tied to the arrest and deportation of thousands of both undocumented and documented individuals. And Sessions stresses the importance of imposing harsher penalties even for low-level drug offenses.
At a speech in March, he told law enforcement officials in Richmond, Virginia, “I think we have too much of a tolerance for drug use ─ psychologically, politically, morally,” adding, “We need to say, as [former first lady] Nancy Reagan said, ‘Just say no.'”