During a House Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday, the deputy director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy reluctantly admitted that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol during a line of questioning from Virginia Representative Gerry Connolly. Michael Botticelli, second in command to the US Drug Czar, provided answers that corroborated President Obama’s recent claims about the dangers (or lack thereof) of using marijuana.
Connolly asked Botticelli, “How many people die from marijuana overdoses every year?”
Botticelli responded, “I don’t know that I know. It is very rare.”
“I don’t know that I know. It is very rare,” Botticelli replied.
“Very rare. Now just contrast that with prescription drugs, unintentional deaths from prescription drugs, one American dies every 19 minutes,” Connolly said. “Nothing comparable to marijuana. Is that correct?”
Botticelli admitted that was true.
“Alcohol — hundreds of thousands of people die every year from alcohol related deaths: automobile [accidents], liver disease, esophageal cancer, blood poisoning,” Connolly continued. “Is that incorrect?”
But Botticelli refused to answer. Picking up on where the line of questioning was headed, he said the “totality of harm” associated with marijuana indicated it was a dangerous drug, even though it was not associated with deaths.
“I guess I’m sticking with the president — the head of your administration — who is making a different point,” Connolly fired back. ”He is making a point that is empirically true. That isn’t a normative statement, that marijuana is good or bad, but he was contrasting it with alcohol and empirically he is correct, is he not?”
Botticelli again tried to dodge the question, but Connolly interrupted him and told him to answer.
“Is it not a scientific fact that there is nothing comparable with marijuana?” Connolly asked. ”And I’m not saying it is good or bad, but when we look at deaths and illnesses, alcohol, other hard drugs are certainly — even prescription drugs — are a threat to public health in a way that just isolated marijuana is not. Isn’t that a scientific fact? Or do you dispute that fact?”
“I don’t dispute that fact,” Botticelli said.
Despite Botticelli’s admission, as well as the President’s, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart has refused to admit that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol. The administrator recently criticized President Obama’s statement, which has led pro-marijuana groups like the Marijuana Policy Project to call for her termination.
Watch the video of the exchange below: