Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, appeared on “Psychoactive” a podcast hosted by Drug Policy Alliance founder, Ethan Nadelmann, and said the legalization of cannabis at the state level had her “expecting the use of marijuana among adolescents would go up” but admitted that “overall, it hasn’t.” Volkow added that she supports continued federal-level drug policy reform.
“Understanding what policies basically protect from negative effects and may actually lead to better outcomes is crucial,” Volkow said. “And we’re funding it.” Volkow also acknowledged that federal drug policy makes obtaining marijuana for scientific studies “extraordinary cumbersome, and as a result, researchers don’t want to get into the field.”
Nadelmann said Volkow’s comments were inconsistent with the agency’s history, pointing out that NIDA has been “operating in a political context in which punitive prohibitionist policies, mass arrests [and] the heavily racial biases that go with all of that has been pervasive.”
“From day one, I’ve been against the criminalization of people because they have a problem with substance use disorders. I’ve been very, very vocal,” Volkow replied. “One of the reasons why I took this position was because I say, we can develop the science in such a way that policy changes … hopefully, science will serve to change policies and reduce the stigma [around addiction] and basically change the notion of criminalizing people to that of treating and helping people and preventing them from relapsing.”
In an op-ed published by health news website STAT, Volkow wrote, “Many people intersect with the criminal justice system as a direct or indirect result of their substance use disorders, and the experience may worsen their addiction and their physical and mental health. Imprisonment itself not only increases the likelihood of dying prematurely but also negatively impacts mental health and social adjustment via the stigma of having been incarcerated. And it has radiating effects: Incarceration of a parent increases their children’s risk of drug use, for example.”
And in an interview with On Health, she said, “It is clear that the United States is currently reckoning with a long history of discriminatory and racist policies, many of which still continue today. The War on Drugs was no exception, and by incarcerating Black people at disproportionately high rates, it has had radiating effects into health, economic security, and mobility, education, housing, families – areas intrinsically connected with the well-being and success of so many Black and other people of color.”