“I don’t dispute that fact.”

In an exchange at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s congressional hearing on marijuana policy today, an elected representative and an appointee of an elected representative squared off over a non-political truth about the relative safety of cannabis compared to America’s legalized drugs, specifically prescription pharmaceuticals and alcohol.

The appointee, Michael Botticelli, the Deputy Director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, was asked a series of non-vague questions by Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) who demanded non-evasive answers or propagandized conjecture on the subject of whether or not cannabis is safer than alcohol from the White House spokesperson in light of President Obama’s recent comments suggesting that the president believes that cannabis is “no more harmful” than alcohol.

Connolly asked Deputy Director Botticelli for a direct answer to an unambiguous question; “How many people die from marijuana overdoses every year?” To which the deputy drug czar answered, “I don’t know that I know. It is very rare.”

Connolly persisted with the line of questioning by asking Deputy Botticelli, “Very rare. Now just contrast that with prescription drugs, unintentional deaths from prescription drugs, one American dies every 19 minutes…nothing comparable to marijuana. Is that correct?” Deputy Botticelli agreed with the congressperson’s analysis.

Connolly continued, “Alcohol – hundreds of thousands of people die every year from alcohol related deaths; automobile (accidents) liver disease, esophageal cancer, blood poisoning…Is that correct?” Deputy Botticelli did not respond to the congress person’s question, but instead offered an off-topic point of personal analysis by reiterating the Obama Administration’s stance on cannabis legalization, stating that the “totality of harm” that is associated with cannabis demonstrates to appointed policy minions such as himself (as opposed to doctors and scientists) that cannabis is dangerous, even though the government itself reports year after year that cannabis causes no deaths of Americans.

Botticelli’s non-substantive and medically inaccurate waffling led Representative Connolly to comment out of frustration in attempting to pin down the administration’s policy person on a simple and straight forward question about widely known scientific fact, “I guess I’m sticking with the president – the head of your administration – who is making a different point. 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.”

Botticelli continued to dodge the direct question by again waffling into administration talking points that have been used for going on five years by the Obama administration to justify its conscious inaction with respect to the legalization or reclassification of cannabis, prompting Representative Connolly to interrupt Botticelli and demand a specific answer to the following question;

Is it not a scientific fact that there is nothing comparable to marijuana? 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?

To which Botticelli responded sheepishly, “I don’t dispute that fact.”

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