Colorado’s now years-long experiment with legal medical and recreational cannabis markets has been mostly positive and fascinating, and yet the federal government has been slow to rethink its decades-long prohibitionist position.
We hope the Obama administration takes advantage of its historic opportunity to end or take steps toward dismantling the destructive war on pot. What an irony it would be if Obama, who has openly admitted to pot use in his early years, and who has shown great tolerance toward local legalization laws, left office without having moved the nation away from the antiquated reefer-madness enforcement of past presidencies.
The problem appears to be entrenchment at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which missed the July 1 deadline it set for itself to reach a determination on whether to reclassify marijuana from its current — laughable — position as a Schedule I substance. Like heroin, the classification is reserved for the most dangerous drugs with which the DEA concerns itself.
A DEA spokesman told The Cannabist’s Alicia Wallace last week that the agency remains in the final stages of an inter-agency review. But Denver regulatory attorney Tom Downey, who recently wrote in these pages about the DEA’s reclassification or declassification options, suggested the DEA would not reach a decision this year.
Certainly the issues are complex. But few of the social-ills predictions for Colorado and the small handful of state and local jurisdictions that allow recreational sales, as well as the many that allow medical marijuana, have come to pass. In June, for example, data from the state’s Healthy Kids Colorado Survey showed that marijuana use among high school students has not increased and tracks the national average.
Meanwhile, families trust medical marijuana to help children with seizures and other ailments. Patients with serious conditions seek medical marijuana for a range of treatments. They do so largely without significant scientific study to guide them.
Both medical and recreational markets struggle with the fact that the federal definition of marijuana continues to block law-abiding dispensary owners from reasonable access to banks, creating a largely cash-only business model that invites risk and related security expense. The businesses also face enormous tax penalties and layer upon layer of regulatory hurdles few other legal businesses would tolerate.
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In the absence of sensible national rules, Colorado also faces tensions when it comes to regulating medical marijuana patients who opt to grow their own, as we saw last month when state regulators took action against four doctors for recommending excessive numbers of plants to patients. If marijuana were legal, such problems would wither away.
We get it that ending marijuana prohibition would be difficult. Back in 2012, when Colorado voters were asking themselves whether to support Amendment 64, we urged them to vote against it for reasons specific to the amendment itself and yet also called for an end to prohibition at the federal level, which we considered the more appropriate approach.
Perhaps more debate is needed before the feds can get behind full-scale legalization. But without the kind of scientific research that prohibition shackles, it is difficult to see how that debate could be well-informed.
The DEA should step up and look past its ridiculous hard-line approach.