WASHINGTON -- With federal law enforcement officials moving to make it easier for marijuana businesses to operate in states where they are legal, one member of Congress is calling on President Barack Obama to take the next logical step and remove pot from the federal government's list of tightly restricted drugs.
Marijuana is listed on Schedule I, along with heroin and LSD, under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The Drug Enforcement Administration says that such drugs have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse" and that they are "the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence."
But Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime advocate for loosening restrictions on marijuana, thinks that definition clearly doesn't apply to weed, which can now be medically prescribed in many states. He's begun circulating a letter to the president among other members of Congress, seeking signers who will ask that marijuana be stricken from the controlled substances categories or at least moved to a less restrictive schedule.
"Schedule I recognizes no medical use, disregarding both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana," the letter says.
According to Blumenauer's spokesman, the congressman had been thinking about such a request for a while, but was sparked to pursue it after Obama told The New Yorker magazine that he thought pot was less destructive than booze.
"You said that you don't believe marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol: a fully legalized substance, and believe it to be less dangerous 'in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.' This is true," says the letter. "Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, the strictest classification, along with heroin and LSD. This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs. This makes no sense."
Blumenauer will gain a better sense of how many of his colleagues want to sign on to the effort when Congress returns next week, but it will likely require more than a token level of support to sway Obama. In spite of the president's comments, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters last week that Obama remains opposed to decriminalizing pot.
The administration has the authority to determine which substances are and are not on the controlled schedules. Congress can also pass laws to change those lists.
Here is Blumenauer's full letter:
We were encouraged by your recent comments in your interview with David Remnick in the January 27, 2014 issue of the New Yorker, about the shifting public opinion on the legalization of marijuana. We request that you take action to help alleviate the harms to society caused by the federal Schedule I classification of marijuana.
Lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws. Nearly two-thirds of a million people every year are arrested for marijuana possession. We spend billions every year enforcing marijuana laws, which disproportionately impact minorities. According to the ACLU, black Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite comparable marijuana usage rates.
You said that you don't believe marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol: a fully legalized substance, and believe it to be less dangerous "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer." This is true. Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, the strictest classification, along with heroin and LSD. This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs. This makes no sense.
Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system. Schedule I recognizes no medical use, disregarding both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana. A Schedule I or II classification also means that marijuana businesses in states where adult or medical use are legal cannot deduct business expenses from their taxes or take tax credits due to Section 280E of the federal tax code.
We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II. Furthermore, one would hope that your Administration officials publicly reflect your views on this matter. Statements such as the one from DEA chief of operations James L. Capra that the legalization of marijuana at the state level is "reckless and irresponsible" serve no purposes other than to inflame passions and misinform the public.
Thank you for your continued thoughtfulness about this important issue. We believe the current system wastes resources and destroys lives, in turn damaging families and communities. Taking action on this issue is long overdue.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.