Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Shalala Shuffle: Former HHS Chief "Evolves" on Marijuana

Former US Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala has become the latest Drug Warrior to "evolve" on marijuana.

Shalala, who is now running for a Congressional seat in Florida, tweeted on 4/20: "Decriminalizing marijuana shouldn't just be a policy priority — but a moral imperative." The tweet links to a page on her website where you can sign up for her campaign, and donate!

Yet, although Shalala once admitted to smoking pot in college in an interview with Diane Sawyer, as H&HS chief in 1996 she stood with Attorney General Janet Reno and Drug "Czar" Barry McCaffrey threatening to revoke doctors' licenses for recommending medical marijuana (a successful civil challenge later backed the government off). "Marijuana is illegal, dangerous, unhealthy and wrong," Shalala said at the time. "It's a one-way ticket to dead-end hopes and dreams."

Her own pot smoking didn't seem to have hurt Shalala's ambition. She also chaired the Children's Defense Fund before being appointed by Bill Clinton to the top H&HS post. After she served as president of Hunter College in New York City and in 1988, she was named chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the first woman ever to head a Big Ten school. She then became President of the University of Miami.

According to an article in the Miami Herald, as recently as 2013, Shalala was on record questioning her own party for its support of a medicinal marijuana market in Florida.

In a statement made last week, Shalala's campaign said the candidate remains worried about the effect of marijuana on children, but cited new research, public perception, and criminal justice statistics for her change in thinking on marijuana. The statement cited "strong evidence showing real medical benefits of marijuana when used properly," statistics showing states that have legalized medical marijuana have seen a drop in opioid deaths, and the overwhelming support for Amendment 2 in Florida two years ago.

"Donna's thinking and understanding of marijuana has evolved, just as the general population's perspective and the science has evolved," the statement said. "She believes that we must reschedule cannabis to allow the government and the scientific community to work together to thoroughly study its effects and potential benefits. And, we must decriminalize cannabis because for far too long we have witnessed families and lives being destroyed over marijuana, especially individuals of color. We must follow the science and look at the facts."

Commenting about Shalala's former stance against medical marijuana, former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders told Playboy magazine, "She has a Ph.D. in political science. That's the kind of science she practices." Let's hope, this time, she's practicing the real kind.

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