WASHINGTON – A day after Washington state joined Colorado in selling marijuana in retail outlets, the Obama administration on Wednesday criticized drug legalization and warned that a declining perception of risk is leading more U.S. teens to smoke pot.
In a report to Congress, the White House drug czar’s office said it wants to spend $25 billion next year as part of a broad drug-fighting plan, including more on treatment for people addicted to heroin and prescription painkillers. It described the abuse of opioids as a national epidemic.
“We cannot leave people behind,” said Michael Botticelli, the acting drug czar and Obama’s new top drug adviser.
The report urged Americans not to stigmatize those who are addicted to drugs but to make sure they’re informed of the risks of drug use.
“And we must seek to avoid oversimplified debates between the idea of a war on drugs and the notion of legalization as a panacea,” the report said.
Groups backing marijuana legalization criticized the plan.
“The drug czar’s office is still tone deaf when it comes to marijuana policy,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.
Calling marijuana use among young people a “serious challenge,” the federal report said the challenges have “gained prominence” with the decision by voters in Washington state and Colorado in 2012 to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults over 21.
The administration’s $25 billion plan includes nearly $11 billion for treatment and prevention and $9 billion for law enforcement and incarceration. The portion of the drug budget spent on treatment and prevention is now 43 percent, the highest in 12 years.