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Biden to nominate medical cannabis advocate for Drug Czar

Biden to nominate medical cannabis advocate for Drug Czar

President Joe Biden has selected Rahul Gupta as his nominee to head the Office of National Drug Policy (ONDCP), or ‘drug czar.’

Gupta is the former chair of the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Advisory Board where he was openly in favor of medical cannabis, implementing a medical cannabis program in direct conflict with federal law. Gupta played a central role in West Virginia’s medical cannabis program.

Should Gupta be selected by the Senate, it will be the first time a medical cannabis advocate had served in the position, which is significant because the ONDCP director is in a position requires one to oppose any efforts at legalizing cannabis or other federally controlled substances. It would also be the first time a physician was placed in the position of U.S. Drug Czar.

Gupta, during his tenure on the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, advocated for the removal of multiple restrictions in Virginia’s medical cannabis program, and lobbied to allow qualified patients access to cannabis flower, not just topical creams and tinctures. Lawmakers eventually agreed and adjusted the program.

Gupta also disagreed with the limitations of the number of permits issued to growers, processers, and cannabis retailers by the Bureau for Public Health, and advocated for the right of growers and processors to also act as retailers, allowing for vertical integration.

Gupta was a high profile leader in West Virginia’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis and brings his skills at a time of national crisis as opioid deaths in the state have spiked considerably during the pandemic.

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While Gupta’s support of medical cannabis gives hope to cannabis reform advocates, his positions on legalization remain less clear, as he has not publicly stated support for removing cannabis from the federal schedule.

Regardless of his stance on federal legalization, Gutpa’s nomination is unprecedented and may be seen as a sign that the Biden Administration seeks to take a different course from previous administration in their approach to cannabis policy. Time will tell.