The White House is willing to work with lawmakers to reclassify marijuana on the schedule of dangerous prohibited drugs, Attorney General Eric Holder said in early April.
It remains to be seen whether Congress is willing to work with the Obama administration. Republicans hostile to cannabis reform control the House of Representatives, and there’s a good chance the GOP will win the Senate majority in November.
“We’d be more than glad to work with Congress if there is a desire to look at and reexamine how the drug is scheduled,” Holder said during a House committee hearing April 4. “As I said, there is a great degree of expertise that exists in Congress. It is something that ultimately Congress would have to change, and I think that our administration would be glad to work with Congress if such a proposal were made.”
The attorney general’s statement is factually incorrect. The Controlled Substances Act gives the attorney general the power to “remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule.” No congressional approval is required.
But the administration has passed the buck on the issue, even after the president acknowledged early this year that weed is less harmful than alcohol. Several lawmakers have urged Obama to use his rescheduling authority without Congress, but Holder has never even acknowledged that possibility.
The Controlled Substances Act created five schedules of substances controlled by federal statute. The schedules are ranked from 1 to 5 based on how dangerous they are, how addictive they are, and what kind of medical benefit they provide.
Marijuana was placed on Schedule 1 in 1970, on a provisional basis. That category is reserved for extremely dangerous drugs that produce “severe psychological or physical dependence” and have no known medical applications. LSD, heroin, and ecstasy are also listed on this schedule.
Even cocaine and methamphetamine rank lower. They fall on schedule 2 because they have limited medical uses. The federal government has yet to acknowledge a single medicinal benefit from cannabis, despite voluminous evidence to the contrary.
Lawmakers intended to remove weed from Schedule 1 once research determined how addictive it is. Studies have long since found only a small percentage of users become addicted.
Instead, cannabis has remained among the most legally taboo substances in the country. Its inclusion at the top of the schedules allows the DEA and other federal agencies – not to mention state and local police – to dedicate huge resources toward putting pot smokers and low-level dealers in jail. Not to mention their efforts to shut down medical marijuana in states like California.
Weed, unlike other Schedule 1 substances, has never directly killed anyone. Taking it out of that schedule would at least allow researchers to study its benefits, something the federal government has long blocked them from doing.