Drug Czar Nominee Once Praised the Benefits of Medical Cannabis

“President Biden’s nomination of Dr. Rahul Gupta to be the first physician ever to lead the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is another historic step in the Administration’s efforts to turn the tide of our nation’s addiction and overdose epidemic. Dr. Gupta brings firsthand experience as a medical doctor and public health official using evidence-based strategies to address the overdose epidemic in West Virginia. We hope he will be confirmed by the Senate soon,” statement from the White House.

The new White House Drug Czar nominee, Dr. Rahul Gupta, once was a member of the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, helping oversee the state’s medicinal program, where he stated that, “The Board is part of a transparent and accountable process critical to ensuring a comprehensive system that will help citizens suffering from debilitating diseases like cancer.” If confirmed, Dr. Gupta will be the first medical doctor named U.S. Drug Czar as well as the first to have ever played a role implementing a state medical cannabis program. This is just the latest sign that cannabis has moved mainstream and that our nation is slowly starting to understand the need to move towards a health-based approach on drugs, instead of a criminal approach.

The Washington Post reported on the naming of Gupta, noting that harm reduction advocates have had their issues with the likely future Drug Czar:

“The three-decade-old drug policy office — which was created with the support of Biden, who coined the term ‘drug czar‘ in 1982 — coordinates national policy around fighting substance-use disorders, including the response to an opioid crisis that has worsened during the pandemic. For instance, police reports in Montgomery County, Maryland’s most populous county, show that fatal opioid overdoses are up 33 percent, and nonfatal overdoses are up 57 percent this year as of the end of June, compared with the same period in 2020.

“Gupta has publicly warned that the pandemic probably exacerbated addiction-related public health problems, citing the shift from in-person care. ‘When those services are either shut down or turned into virtual services, more people can be denied those services and that only leads to more suffering,’ Gupta told Sinclair Broadcast Group in a news report broadcast this week.

“Gupta, an ally of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), has been favored for months to take the role of drug czar, but he faced resistance from some anti-addiction advocates, who argued he did too little to ensure safe-needle exchange during a 2017 HIV outbreak in West Virginia.”

Filter got the scoop four months ago that Gupta was going to be tabbed Drug Czar and reported on criticisms from local advocates:

“While Gupta earned accolades for his overdose efforts, public health and harm reduction experts question his response to another urgent health crisis plaguing West Virginia: the spread of blood-borne viruses like HIV and hepatitis.

“Facing the known risk of a massive viral outbreak linked to syringe sharing, Dr. Gupta put politics above the health of vulnerable and stigmatized people, public health experts say.

“In 2015, when Gupta took office, the CDC found that half of West Virginia’s 55 counties were at risk of an HIV outbreak due to a lack of sterile syringes available for people who use drugs. West Virginia also had the highest rate of hepatitis C infections in 2015. Today, West Virginia is experiencing multiple HIV and hepatitis C outbreaks. The CDC’s grim assessment of West Virginia years ago has materialized, but experts say it didn’t have to.”

As Marijuana Moment noted, the Reefer Madness prohibitionists at “Smarter” Approaches to Marijuana had hoped that President Joe Biden would name their co-founder Patrick Kennedy as Drug Czar, so drug policy reform activists, especially those prioritizing sensible cannabis policies, should be relatively pleased with Dr. Gupta’s nomination, all things considered. This nomination seems like it’s two step forwards, one step back for all of us fighting the failed Drug War, and knowing the history of the office and the previous positions of the current president, it’s good to take a positive step in the right direction overall, but we must remain vigilant, regardless of who is in office.

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