In a Meet the Press interview on Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said "marijuana is not a factor in the drug war," which is instead focused on methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine. Apparently that dismissive comment got Kelly into trouble, because two days later, in a speech at George Washington University, he gave marijuana top billing in his description of the drug threat posed by "transnational criminal organizations." And lest anyone think Kelly does not take marijuana seriously, he added three paragraphs emphasizing that he does:
Let me be clear about marijuana. It is a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs. Additionally, science tells us that it is not only psychologically addictive but can also have profound negative impact on the still developing brains of teens and up through the early 20s. Beyond that, however, its use and possession is against federal law and until the law is changed by the U.S. Congress we in DHS are sworn to uphold all the laws on the books.
DHS personnel 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. CBP will continue to search for marijuana at sea, air and land ports of entry and when found take similar appropriate action.
When marijuana is found at aviation checkpoints and baggage screening TSA personnel will also take appropriate action. Finally, ICE will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation / removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens. They have done this in the past, are doing it today, and will do it in the future.
No doubt Kelly's marijuana comment on Meet the Press annoyed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an old-fashioned drug warrior who believes "good people don't smoke marijuana" and has hinted that he plans to ratchet up enforcement of the federal ban in states that have legalized pot. Before yesterday's conspicuous correction, Washington Post reporter Derek Hawkins claimed Kelly and Ashcroft had staked out "two vastly different positions on marijuana" and "could hardly be further apart."
But it's not as if Kelly has ever expressed any doubt about the wisdom or fairness of pot prohibition. As head of the U.S. Southern Command in 2014, Kelly complained that marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington had made foreign officials less keen to help him stop Americans from getting the drugs they want. He reiterated that complaint in a Military Times interview last November, during which he said he was, like Donald Trump, open to medical use of marijuana but against broader legalization. "It is a gateway," Kelly said. "There's no doubt." Sessions sounds only somewhat more skeptical about marijuana's medical potential, saying, it "has been hyped, maybe too much," although "dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial."
Even Kelly's statement about marijuana to Meet the Press host Chuck Todd seemed to be aimed at deflating the idea that anything good could come from legalization:
Todd: Marijuana legalization, does that help your problem or hurt your problem?
Kelly: Yeah, marijuana is not a factor in the drug war.
Kelly's concern about marijuana's role as a "gateway" to "harder drugs," of course, implicitly concedes that marijuana is less dangerous than other illegal intoxicants. But such talk has been a staple of anti-pot propaganda since Harry Anslinger was running the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and even Sessions concedes that marijuana is "slightly less awful" than heroin. In short, notwithstanding The Washington Post's hyperbolic take, there is not much daylight between Kelly and Sessons on this issue.