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.