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"Bad Habit" is Breaking Bad

August 15, 2014
Senator Chuck Grassley , Traer Star-Clipper

The White House has taken an irresponsible detour from the important fight against illicit drugs. In a stark departure from efforts such as the "Just Say No" campaign that raised awareness among youth about the dangers of drug use, substance abuse and addiction, the Obama administration is blowing smoke through the nation's criminal justice and financial systems and putting the public health at risk.

President Obama has taken swipes at the nation's drug control policies that spell bad news for our youngest generations. Earlier this year, the President said in an interview that smoking marijuana is just a "bad habit" and no more dangerous than drinking alcohol. This reckless point of view undermines the moral authority of the presidency and even worse, undercuts parental authority in households across the country.

Parents work around-the-clock to instill strong personal values in their children so that when peer pressure comes knocking at the door, their kids will make good choices.

The President's cavalier attitude also seems to undercut the First Lady's "Let's Move" campaign to promote wellness. She advocates how important it is for America's youth to feed their minds and bodies with good, wholesome nutrition. Her efforts to trigger a national conversation about childhood obesity and physical fitness are inconsistent with the President's philosophy that marijuana is just a "bad habit."

Unfortunately, the President is doing more than paying lip service to this misguided mindset. Last August the Justice Department announced it would not challenge state laws legalizing the cultivation, trafficking, sale and recreational use of marijuana, paving the way for increased availability of the drug to young people. Moreover, the Obama administration's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), an organization with the mission of keeping the proceeds of crime out of our financial system, recently issued guidance to financial institutions intended to assist marijuana businesses with depositing money into the system. The Administration also is supporting legislation that would weaken mandatory minimum drug sentences for drug dealers and importers, a key tool used by prosecutors who say the mandatory minimums help them keep drugs off our streets.

Let's consider Colorado. The Department of Justice apparently concluded that so long as the states that legalize marijuana for recreational use create effective regulatory regimes, federal enforcement priorities wouldn't be undermined. Those priorities include the prevention of violence, increased use among minors, and diversion of marijuana to other states. But what is happening on the ground doesn't reflect an effective regulatory regime at all.

In fact, what is unfolding in Colorado is endangering public safety and health. On March 11, a college student jumped to his death from a Denver hotel balcony after eating a marijuana-laced cookie that apparently caused him to hallucinate. On April 14, a Denver man shot and killed his wife while she was frantically calling 911 for help after he ate marijuana-laced candy that again apparently caused hallucinations. On April 21, a Greeley, Colorado, fourth grader was caught selling marijuana that he got from relatives.

Recent testimony before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control highlights another gateway to drug addiction. This one can get its start from the medicine cabinets in households across America.

Prescription painkillers may lead to opiate addiction. Specifically, two widely prescribed medicines such as Vicodin and OxyContin that are used to treat pain may put patients at risk for addiction or prescription drug theft. A constituent recently relayed a situation in which an acquaintance paid an unannounced visit to her friend's home after her back surgery. Only later did the patient realize the visitor had stolen her prescription pain medication to supply an opiate addiction. According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than two-thirds of those who abuse prescription drugs obtain them through a friend or relative for whom the drug was legally prescribed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. In Iowa, deaths attributable to the abuse of prescription pain medication have jumped in the last decade, rising from 8 in 2003 to 52 in 2012.

In 2010, I worked with Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota to pass the bipartisan "Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act" to allow for communities to establish "take back" programs so patients may safely dispose of old and unused medicines. In the last four years, more than 4.1 million pounds of unwanted, unused and expired prescription meds have been collected in "take back" days that occur in the spring and fall in communities across the country.

Policymakers from across the political spectrum at the very least can agree that drug addiction is bad. Prevention, treatment and law enforcement are strategic pieces of the policy puzzle that are needed to protect the public health and safety of our families and communities. Breaking away from the reckless notion that "bad habits" aren't so bad would be a step in the right direction.



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