Former FDA Head Condones Marijuana Decriminalization

The former FDA commissioner acknowledged there are legitimate reasons to decriminalize marijuana.

Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said he believes the United States should consider decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.

On a recent appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, Gottlieb said he believes decriminalization would help address the criminal justice concerns associated with prohibition.

“People are arrested for possession of marijuana and face sentences that are oftentimes in excess of what they would receive for offenses that I think are far more significant and serious. You do see too many people I think developing significant criminal records for small possession charges of marijuana,” Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb was responding to a question from a viewer from Washington state, who had called in and said he felt marijuana legalization has made a positive impact in his state.

In his reply, Gottlieb added that he does not back full marijuana legalization and noted that the “discussion [about decriminalization] should be separate from legalization, particularly around recreational use.”

Gottlieb’s opposition to full marijuana legalization is related to the concern that it would make access easier for minors. During his C-SPAN appearance, he said he feels some states might be too permissive in this respect, without naming any specific states.

Gottlieb is specifically concerned about the effects that increases in teen marijuana use might have on youth brain development. However, a recent study published in the respected medical journal JAMA Pediatrics found that youth consumption has decreased in states that have legalized recreational use.

Gottlieb said he believes there will be federal cannabis reform in the near future. He foresees a change that makes cannabis more widely available, with restrictions that prohibit youth access.

“I suspect we’re a couple of political cycles away from doing that, not because of a Republican or a Democratic issue, this is not necessarily a partisan political issue,” he said. “I think it’s just going to take the federal government more time to catch up to what’s going on in the states.”

Gottlieb added that he did not discuss decriminalization with the White House while he was working at the FDA.

“My domain was largely public health and the discussion that I would typically get drawn into was the question around legalization and particularly around the youth use of these products,” he said.

Restating His Position

Gottlieb made similar remarks last November when he suggested that cannabis reform was an “inevitability” in an interview on CNBC.

“Obviously it’s happening at the state level, and I think there’s an inevitability that it’s going to happen at the federal level at some point soon,” Gottlieb said last year.

He had previously publicly supported the FDA doing research into the effects of marijuana.

Gottlieb, however, remains skeptical regarding marijuana’s purported health benefits, despite the fact that the FDA has approved medication that contains cannabis, and an extensive government-funded research review from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) that found cannabis effective for a variety of symptoms and conditions.

Gottlieb was head of the FDA from May 2017 to March 2019.

Marijuana’s Legal Status

To learn more about cannabis laws in the U.S., visit our Where is Marijuana Legal? page. Through our news feed, you can keep up with the latest cannabis industry news.