As marijuana legalization continues its march forward, and as American power-brokers and politicians have come around to say that cannabis isn’t as dangerous as they once said it was, the maze that is the federal government’s pot policy is going from meandering to more linear.
Case in point: The head of the DEA this week said “heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana.” Yet the two drugs share a federal classification as Schedule I substances, something that has long frustrated legalization advocates — and now a U.S. Congressman from Oregon.
U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat, wrote a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch today urging her “to reschedule or de-schedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act to reflect science and the government’s position on this issue.”
“It is clear,” Blumenauer wrote to Lynch, “to the American people, scientists and researchers that marijuana should not be categorized as a Schedule I drug.”
Many have argued that the myriad issues facing legal cannabis are more complicated than simple rescheduling. As drug policy expert Mark A.R. Kleiman wrote in February 2014:
“Even an arbitrary decision to move the plant itself from Schedule I to Schedule II (or even Schedule III) would have mostly symbolic effects. It would still be a federal offense to grow, sell or possess cannabis except as a Food and Drug Administration-approved drug available by prescription.”
But many others say that rescheduling is a solid, and reasonable, place to start.
In late-2014, then Attorney General Eric Holder seemed open to the idea of rescheduling cannabis, as he told Yahoo global news anchor Katie Couric.
“The question of whether or not (marijuana and heroin) should be in the same category is something that we need to ask ourselves — and use science as the basis for making that determination.”
But when Holder announced his resignation in September of 2014, his replacement Loretta Lynch — the object of Rep. Blumenauer’s letter — came out against legalization in her daylong Senate confirmation hearing in January 2015.
“Marijuana is still a criminal substance under federal law. And it is still a crime not only to possess, but to distribute under federal law.”
Mind you, Lynch’s comment on cannabis came more than one year after President Barack Obama famously said, “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” (Alcohol isn’t listed on the DEA’s list of drug schedules.) When Lynch was asked about the commander in chief’s comments on pot, she responded plainly.
“I certainly don’t hold that view and don’t agree with that view of marijuana as a substance. I certainly think that the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion, neither of which I’m able to share.”
Blumenauer co-sponsored a bill earlier this year that would have conservatively rescheduled marijuana to simplify the process for legitimate scientific research, but House Republicans killed the bipartisan bill in mid-July.
Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia, a Republican, was frustrated after the bill died.
“We let doctors use heroin derivatives, barbiturates and all kinds of nasty stuff that I wouldn’t want people to use recreationally. Why not study marijuana?”
With the death of that bill more than a month in his rear-view, Blumenauer’s letter to the attorney general resonates with urgency.
The full text of his letter, dated August 6, 2015:
“We are in the midst of a revolution to reform and modernize marijuana policy in the United States. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use. Additionally, well over one million patients across the country now use medical marijuana at the recommendation of their physician to treat conditions ranging from seizures, glaucoma, anxiety, chronic pain and nausea. The federal government is woefully behind.
I fully support and agree with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg’s statement on August 5, 2015, that ‘heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana.’ This statement is backed by decades of scientific evidence, and rapidly growing public support recognizing that marijuana has been treated as a highly dangerous substance for far too long.
As you know, under the Controlled Substances Act, there are five schedules for controlled drugs. Schedule I is for drugs that the DEA defines as having a high potential for abuse and no medical value. Heroin, LSD and marijuana are all in this category. Methamphetamine and cocaine are less severely categorized as Schedule II drugs. It is clear to the American people, scientists and researchers that marijuana should not be categorized as a Schedule I drug.
In light of the statement by the head of the DEA, a senior Justice Department official, and recognition of marijuana’s medical value, I urge you to initiate the process under your authority to reschedule or de-schedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act to reflect science and the government’s position on this issue.”