The Secretive Marijuana Committee Operated by the White House

October 3, 2018

The Trump administration was evasive in August when BuzzFeed News reported on a secretive marijuana committee operated by the White House — detailing memos that indicated the committee’s agenda to propagate negative attitudes toward pot and portray the drug as a national threat.

But now the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has acknowledged the committee’s existence in a letter to a Democratic senator seeking information in light of BuzzFeed News’ report.

At the time of that report, several agencies declined to say whether the committee even existed. The White House, when asked, only obliquely referred to a “deliberative process.”

But after Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado questioned top officials about trying to skew data for “backward” political purposes, the ONDCP confirmed to him that the committee is underway, but argued that its work will be unbiased.

In a letter obtained by BuzzFeed News, ONDCP Acting Director James Carroll says the “intent of the marijuana policy coordinating committee” is to work with federal and state partners to assess “rapidly changing drug markets.”

Carroll insisted the committee was neither secretive nor subjective, saying in his Sept. 21 letter that federal officials are taking a “completely objective” approach while seeking “all perspectives, positive or negative.”

However, BuzzFeed News first reported in August on several memos sent to federal agencies concerning the Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, which solely sought negative information on the drug. The memos instructed 14 agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration to submit “data demonstrating the most significant negative trends” on the drug and identify issues with state legalization ballot measures, in part to prepare a report for President Donald Trump, who has previously supported states’ rights on marijuana.

The committee complained in one memo that the narrative around marijuana is unfairly biased in favor of the drug and said it wanted to turn the tide on increasing marijuana use.

As BuzzFeed News reported, the committee, a coalition of federal agencies assembled by the White House, met on July 27. The Education Department confirmed it handed over documents to the committee, while the Department of State deferred questions to the White House. Several agencies declined to comment. The White House told BuzzFeed News at the time it was pursuing “internal, deliberative process to craft the President’s policies on a number of important issues facing the American people, and ensure consistency with the President’s agenda.”

Sen. Bennet probed the White House in an Aug. 30 letter, questioning whether the committee was an “intentional effort to mislead the American people.”

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