Press Release  | 04/04/2014

Obama Administration "Willing to Work" With Congress to Reschedule Marijuana

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Drug Policy Alliance: Rescheduling Is Small Step In Right Direction, But Wouldn’t Protect People From Being Arrested or Punished for Marijuana Possession

DPA Supports De-Scheduling Marijuana and Legally Regulating It

Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that the Obama administration would be willing to work with Congress if lawmakers want to reschedule marijuana.

Re-categorizing marijuana would not legalize the drug under federal law, but it could ease restrictions on research into marijuana's medical benefits and allow marijuana businesses to take tax deductions.

“Rescheduling would be a modest step in the right direction, but would do nothing to stop marijuana arrests or prohibition-related violence,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Now that the majority of the American public supports taxing and regulating marijuana, this debate about re-scheduling is a bit antiquated and not a real solution to the failures of marijuana prohibition.”

Holder’s comments come on the heels of guidance issued by the Justice Department that indicated the Obama Administration will not undermine state marijuana legalization provided states are responsibly regulating marijuana businesses. In an interview with The New Yorker earlier this year, President Obama said marijuana is less harmful to people who use it than alcohol, the war on marijuana is creating unjust racial disparities, and it is important for state legalization to move forward “because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.” In February, Attorney General Eric Holder announced new guidelines that will allow banks to legally provide financial services to state-licensed marijuana businesses.

"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, as I said there is a great degree of expertise that exists in Congress," Holder said during today’s House Appropriations Committee hearing. "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."

Here is the Drug Policy Alliance’s position on rescheduling:

  • The current system for classifying illegal (and most legal) drugs is flawed, outdated and unscientific.
  • Rescheduling would be a modest step in the right direction, possibly opening the door for limited research. Symbolically, it would be a victory for commonsense drug policy, acknowledging the weight of the scientific evidence and popular support for medical marijuana.
  • However, simply moving marijuana to a less restrictive schedule would not protect existing state medical marijuana programs or change federal penalties for possessing, cultivating, and distributing marijuana. Nor would it remove all obstacles to research or force DEA and NIDA to allow research to move forward.
  • Rescheduling would not prevent people from being arrested and punished for using marijuana recreationally.
  • DPA believes that patients must have safe and immediate access to medical marijuana, including the ability to cultivate it in their own homes; that existing state medical marijuana programs, including those with functioning dispensaries, must be protected; that all barriers to marijuana research must be eliminated; that marijuana is of acceptable safety to be regulated more or less like alcohol; and that states like Colorado and Washington, which have decided to regulate marijuana for adult recreational use, should be allowed to do so without federal interference.
  • To these ends, DPA supports the de-scheduling, or complete removal, of marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and its regulation for adult consumption in a manner similar to alcohol. De-scheduling can only occur through Congressional action.

For more background on marijuana rescheduling, see DPA’s fact sheet: Removing Marijuana From the Controlled Substances Act

Contact:  Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Bill Piper 202-669-6430

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