In a huge victory for marijuana reform, the leaders of the campaign that got the drug legalized in the District of Columbia met with a policy adviser to President Barack Obama in late April.
The meeting, which took place April 25, involved an administration official who was unidentified by either side of the discussion because of its sensitive nature. The sit-down happened at the White House, a fact that itself marked a major shift in the fortunes of cannabis reform in both the United States and the nation’s capital.
Nikolas Schiller and Adam Eidinger, the leaders of the 2014 legalization drive in Washington and co-founders of D.C. Marijuana Justice (DCMJ), announced the meeting shortly before it happened. The White House had no comment on the discussion or on marijuana policy generally.
But the two sides discussed a topic critical to reformers, District residents, pot smokers, and many other Americans: Why cannabis is – and should not be – classified as one of the most dangerous drugs controlled by federal law. Pot is listed under schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a designation that places it in the company of heroin, LSD, and synthetic THC as an especially addictive, especially hazardous, and medically useless drug.
Seeking to remove cannabis from CSA altogether
“This is an opportunity for the White House to meet with serious and committed cannabis activists and hear our case for why it’s in President Obama’s best interest to work with the attorney general to fully remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act,” Schiller said before the landmark meeting.
It was a half-hour discussion covering reform nationwide and in the District, which is governed in part by federal law. Though voters there legalized marijuana in the November 2014 election, and possession of small amounts of cannabis is legal, Congress has made it impossible for retail stores to sell the drug.
Among other hopeful signs, the meeting suggests legalization may finally advance in the District. It also comes as the DEA considers whether to reclassify marijuana by moving it to schedule 2, a class of drugs that can be prescribed and researched, unlike substances on schedule 1. And the DEA recently cleared a major study of cannabis as a treatment for PTSD, a break from decades of refusal to let scientists research the drug’s medical benefits.
Law enforcement efforts should focus on criminal organizations
Michael Botticelli, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, reportedly told the UN in April that “law enforcement efforts should focus on criminal organizations, not on people with substance use disorders who need treatment and recovery support services.” Police and federal agents have long used anti-narcotics laws to target addicts and other low-level drug users.
Roughly 700,000 people will be arrested and charged with marijuana crimes in 2016, according to legalization advocates. Many are jailed and suffer the consequences of permanent criminal records, including inability to get jobs, rent apartments, or secure government benefits.
“DCMJ appreciates greatly the invitation by the Obama administration to begin an educated and passionate dialogue into the need to remove cannabis from the list of Schedule One drugs,” Eidinger said before the White House meeting. “Thanks to Schedule One of the Controlled Substances Act, Americans, especially people of color, are needlessly incarcerated, and critical medical research into the healing properties of cannabis is placed on hold for no good reason.”