Biden nominee for drug czar has ties with medical cannabis business

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Last year, Dr. Rahul Gupta is believed to have consulted with a medical cannabis business in Massachusetts for nine months. Why is this relevant? Because Dr. Gupta is President Joe Biden’s choice to front the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

The ONDCP recently released ethics documents that verified Gupta’s collaboration with cannabis multistate operator (MSO) Holistic Industries. According to a Biden spokesperson, Gupta served the company by “consulting on regulatory compliance matters” pertaining to physician recommendations for medical cannabis in West Virginia.

Holistic boasts operations in California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington DC. Despite not maintaining a footprint in West Virginia just yet, the cannabis company intends on serving the Appalachian state where a legal market will soon transpire in the near future. 

About Gupta

Based on an official statement from a White House spokesperson, the Biden administration has confirmed the appointment of Dr. Gupta as director of the ONDCP. A former health commissioner for West Virginia, Dr. Rahul Gupta is set to lead President Joe Biden’s efforts to curb the most fatal overdose crisis ever recorded in human history.

The primary care doctor emerged as a nationally acclaimed health policy expert whilst serving his role as West Virginia’s public health commissioner between the years 2015 and 2018. It was at this time that he guided the state’s response to an overdose epidemic; the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over 93,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year.

During his former role as West Virginia’s medical officer, Gupta contributed to the formation of the state’s medical cannabis industry regulations. This information suggests that Biden might need to start warming up to the prospect of legal cannabis.

Back in March, several White House employees were dismissed for cannabis consumption. Even before the incidents occurred, Biden has been a staunch opponent of federal level legalization. However, this doesn’t change the fact that numerous Biden appointees including Gupta have been associated with some aspect of cannabis reform.

Dr. Gupta will replace Regina LaBelle

In the event that Biden’s drug czar nominee is approved by the Senate, the ONDCP’s current acting director, Regina LaBelle, will be replaced by Dr. Gupta. LaBelle is an expert in advising governments and non-profit associations on strategic ways to address health-related issues.

“President Biden’s nomination of Dr. Rahul Gupta to be the first physician ever to lead the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is another historic step in the Administration’s efforts to turn the tide of our nation’s addiction and overdose epidemic,” a spokesperson told reporters.

“Dr. Gupta brings firsthand experience as a medical doctor and public health official using evidence-based strategies to address the overdose epidemic in West Virginia. We hope he will be confirmed by the Senate soon.”

Currently, it remains uncertain as to the specific harm reduction approach that Gupta may take. Interestingly, harm reduction experts and lobbyists have criticized his record of drug policy, which saw him back the termination of a low-level syringe service program in 2018.

Aside from overdose deaths, West Virginia is battling soaring incidents of HIV and hepatitis C; triggered by poor harm reduction infrastructure and lack of access to sterile syringes among drug users. In February, Kanawha County’s HIV outbreak was described as “the most concerning in the United States” by the CDC.