President Barack Obama acknowledged in March that marijuana reform could soon reach Congress.
Obama told Vice that if enough states adopt laws allowing recreational and medical cannabis, there’s a good chance Congress would move to erase federal barriers to legalization. That could ultimately lead to legal marijuana nationwide.
“We may be able to make some progress on the decriminalization side,” the president said. “At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may then reschedule marijuana.”
Efforts are already in motion
An effort is already underway to do just that. Earlier in March, three U.S. senators – Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) – introduced legislation that would move marijuana from schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act to schedule 2.
The 1970 law organizes controlled drugs into several schedules, or categories. Schedule 1 is reserved for the most dangerous, most addictive, and least medically useful substances, including heroin, ecstasy, and peyote. Cannabis remains on this list despite bountiful evidence that it is neither particularly hazardous nor addictive, and that it has many documented medical benefits.
Schedule 2, on the other hand, is reserved for drugs that are considered dangerous and addictive but nonetheless are permitted for limited medical use. This includes cocaine, which is used as a topical anesthetic in eye surgeries, and methamphetamine, which is sometimes used to treat ADHD and severe obesity.
Marijuana shouldn’t fall in Cat. 1 or Cat. 2 of CSA
Even that listing would be too stringent for most cannabis proponents, but it would make it much easier for states to adopt medical or recreational legalization without fear of federal intervention.
Observers don’t give the new legislation much chance of passing within the next year or two, but it may pave the way for other proposals. Obama, meanwhile, said he’s happy that the politics of the issue seem to be turning around.
“What I’m encouraged by is you’re starting to see this not just liberal Democrats, but also some very conservative Republicans recognize this doesn’t make sense, including the libertarian wing of the Republican Party,” the president said.
Obama said he doesn’t want the government or his administration to encourage marijuana use, especially among the young. But he said criminal sanctions haven’t done the country any good.
“I’d separate out the issue of criminalization of marijuana from encouraging its use,” he said. “I think there’s no doubt that our criminal justice system, generally, is so heavily skewed towards cracking down on non-violent drug offenders that it has not just had a terrible effect on many communities, particularly communities of color, rendering a lot of folks unemployable because they got felony records, disproportionate prison sentences. It costs a huge amount of money to states and a lot of states are figuring that out.”