Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. (Andrew Burton, Getty Images)

In Colorado: Presidential hopeful O’Malley promises pot policy change

Updated Sept. 17, 2015 at 1:05 p.m.

Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley met with Colorado marijuana regulators Thursday and vowed immediate change on marijuana policy if he takes office — even as he laid out contradictory plans about how he’d do that.

The former Maryland governor repeated his pledge to reclassify marijuana under federal drug laws if elected. He sat down with state pot regulators, along with marijuana activists and a few representatives from the industry.

Reclassification could open the door to doctors being able to prescribe marijuana, which currently has no accepted medical use under federal law. Such a change would place the drug under control of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, not the states.

O’Malley said he would take a different approach than President Barack Obama — who has executive authority to reclassify marijuana but has repeatedly said he’d leave the question up to Congress.

O’Malley said he’d immediately make marijuana a Schedule II drug — similar to cocaine, which is in the most tightly controlled category of drugs that can be legally prescribed.

He stopped short of calling for nationwide legalization of marijuana. In Maryland, O’Malley signed a decriminalization bill but also opposed legalizing its recreational use.

“I think we still have to watch Colorado and Washington state. I’m not there yet,” O’Malley said.

Pressed about his contradictory positions — that states should be allowed to experiment with drug policy even as he’d order marijuana placed under FDA control — O’Malley grinned but didn’t elaborate.

“Progress zigs and zags, doesn’t it?” he said.

O’Malley spent most of the hour-long meeting asking state and local officials how marijuana legalization has turned out.

When the state’s top pot regulator talked about how Colorado tried to keep weed in the state and away from kids, O’Malley broke in, asking, “How do you keep it out of other states?”

“Can we guarantee it? No. But we work closely with law enforcement,” said Revenue Director Barbara Brohl.

O’Malley asked about whether youth drug use has changed and whether marijuana legalization affects heroin use and prescription drug abuse. Colorado officials replied that surveys on youth use are mixed, as are indications about what effect legal pot has had on opioid abuse.

O’Malley also had some tongue-in-cheek questions.

“You didn’t see everybody showing up three hours late for work?” he joked, to laughs from the officials.

The meeting was short on specifics about nationwide drug policy.

A policy analyst who has studied the implications of reclassifying marijuana and was not at the meeting downplayed O’Malley’s reclassification vow.

“It’s probably best understood as a symbolic statement that he’s open to changing from established practices,” said Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon University. “The actual effect of rescheduling wouldn’t be dramatic.”

Kristen Wyatt can be reached on Twitter: APkristenwyatt