In the spring issue of the journal Democracy, John J. DiIulio Jr., the former White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush, underscored the need to “legalize marijuana for medically prescribed uses,” as part of his “Six Steps to Zero Prison Growth.” DiIulio should be applauded for his statements calling for a federal medical marijuana policy, not just because it will reduce prison growth, but also because it is a public health issue that must be addressed.
It’s true that DiIulio, currently a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, co-authored a book in 1996 with former Drug Czars William Bennett and John Walters, and wrote articles entitled, “Prisons Are a Bargain, by Any Measure,” and “Let ‘Em Rot.” However, DiIulio turned a new leaf before he even set foot in the White House to work for G.W. Bush in 2001. Contrary to the surprise recently expressed by other drug policy groups, Reason Magazine called DiIulio an “outspoken critic” of drug sentencing policies as far back as 1999. After DiIulio left the White House, Time Magazine published a story in 2003, noting that he “now opposes mandatory minimums for drug crimes,” and Rolling Stone published a story in 2007, claiming that DiIulio was:
…disgusted by the “perverse consequences” of harsh sentencing laws that had put millions of young Americans in prison, disbelieved the “sweeping scientific claims” made about the dangers of medical marijuana and wanted to expand “meaningful drug-treatment opportunities in urban areas.”
So, although it may not be a complete surprise that John DiIulio continues to forsake his pro-enforcement rhetoric of the past, we should still seize the opportunity to educate those in positions of power. DiIulio should work with Americans for Safe Access (ASA) to convince the federal government of developing a comprehensive policy on medical marijuana. While he’s at it, DiIulio should counsel Michele Leonhart, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to end the ongoing raids in medical marijuana states, and urge Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to grant the pending petition to reschedule medical marijuana. Finally, DiIulio can satisfy part of his criminal justice goals by working with ASA to pass the “Truth in Trials” Act, which would give medical marijuana patients and providers a fighting chance, a defense in federal court.