Obama Should Reschedule Marijuana Now

 In Lifestyle, National News, Regulation
President Obama made some news the other day with another slew of pardons and commutations, adding to his record number as president. Obama has pardoned more people than all presidents back to Truman combined, which is both notable and commendable. Many of these pardons came for Draconian sentences handed out during the worst years of the War On Drugs, when people were routinely sentenced to long prison terms not so much for possessing cocaine but rather for possessing the wrong type of cocaine (when there was a 100-to-1 disparity between crack and powdered cocaine in federal sentencing laws). Obama is doing what he can for the cause of criminal justice reform, but there’s one more thing he really should do before he leaves office ― reschedule marijuana so that it is not considered more dangerous than methamphetamine and opium. Contrary to his statements in the past, he can achieve this by directing his attorney general to sign a piece of paper ― congressional approval is not required at all. So in the midst of correcting some abuses of the Drug War with last-minute pardons, Obama should take this proactive step to change the federal War On Weed as part of his presidential legacy.

Of course, what one president does can be undone by another president. Donald Trump could just as easily direct his attorney general to change the law back. Politically, though, this will be tough to justify, which is one reason why Obama should act before he leaves office. The classification of marijuana has always been more political than scientific, after all. John Ehrlichman, a top aide to Richard Nixon (who was president when the drug schedules were created), even admitted this, in a remarkably candid statement:

You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black people, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

Barack Obama, a president who both won the Nobel Peace Prize and is black, could change Nixon’s nakedly political classification before he leaves office. That would be truly ironic.

Of course, the real answer to federal legal reform on marijuana is to completely declassify it ― move it off the schedules entirely, and hand enforcement and regulation over to the same bureau that deals with alcohol and tobacco. That’s the sensible end of the road, but that isn’t realistic to hope for before Obama leaves office. At the very least, though, Obama could reschedule marijuana to a lesser level, to reflect the new reality at the state level.

Read more at huffingtonpost.com

Photo credit: Andrew Burton via Getty Images