By Alice Salles
In December of 2016, Bloomberg News reported that Jim O’Neill, a managing director at Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital, was being eyed by Donald Trump to serve as the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Now, Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, has confirmed O’Neill is one of the administration’s main picks.
This development may give cannabis legalization activists across the country a reason to celebrate after days of hostility between anti-Trump protesters and supporters of the new Republican president.
As a member of the Board of Directors of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, O’Neill has been fighting for weed legalization for years. The Coalition is known for having helped to legalize the plant in the Golden State.
But O’Neill isn’t the only individual Trump is considering for the role. Spicer also named Balaji Srinivasan, the founder of bitcoin payments company 21 Inc. and Counsyl, a genetic testing company, as a potential pick. Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal, serves as an adviser and transition team member in the current administration, and he has ties to both picks. The investor may have had some influence in bringing up both names for consideration.
Thiel made the news in 2015 for being one of the first major investors to bet on the marijuana industry.
While O’Neill is a vocal supporter of marijuana legalization, he has also advocated for a more lenient FDA. He has discussed the importance of implementing drastic FDA reforms that would allow people to “start using [drugs], at their own risk.” Srinivasan is also a harsh critic of the federal government’s approach to the drug industry and has urged his followers on Twitter to stop “[arguing] on Twitter” and start “[building] the future” instead.
O’Neill is a board member at the Seasteading Institute, an organization that works to create new societies at sea — away from current governments. The institute has been associated with libertarian movements in the past; Patri Friedman, the grandson of free market economist Milton Friedman, was one of its founders. O’Neill, who serves as the managing director at Thiel’s Mithril Capital Management, also served as principal associate deputy secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush.
In 2009, O’Neill demonstrated he was warm to free market ideals, saying that “because there’s not a free market in healthcare, people are suffering very significant health consequences that in a free market they would not suffer.” Embracing the free market, he added, would drive “prices much lower and allow innovation in cheaper delivery of care, both in terms of drugs and devices and better forms of delivery.”
As Bloomberg reported, the FDA “has some of the government’s broadest regulatory authority” and is responsible for “food, drugs, medical devices, dietary supplements, cosmetics and tobacco.” By choosing a libertarian, or at least a libertarian-leaning insider to head the FDA, President Trump may be inviting deregulation into the federal government. This is a move that could help advocates speaking out against the FDA’s inhumane treatment of individuals willing to go under treatments that haven’t been officially recognized. This includes individuals who use cannabis and other illicit drugs to treat a variety of maladies.
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