Eighteen members of Congress have asked President Barack Obama to relax the strict classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance.
“Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., the lead author of their letter, argues. The letter was signed by 16 other Democrats and one Republican, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. It was sent to the president on Wednesday.
According to the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, Schedule I drugs are those substances that have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Schedule I is the CSA’s classification for heroin and LSD.
The letter points out such a classification is at odds with the president’s recent remarks in an interview with New Yorker magazine.
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”As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life," Obama said in that interview. "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
While the president may be publicly softening his stance on marijuana, he has said he prefers Congress to act instead of taking unilateral executive action.
"What is and isn't a Schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress," Obama told Jake Tapper of CNN.
The CSA grants authority to the legislature to reschedule controlled substances, but provisions in the law also allow the executive branch, through the U.S. Attorney General and the DEA, to reclassify drugs.
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Attorney General Eric Holder has also stated his preference for Congress to take action first regarding the contentious marijuana classification.
Such a position by the Obama administration contradicts recent remarks about executive action, said Stephen Sherer. Sherer is the executive director of Americans for Safe Access, the largest medical marijuana advocacy group in the country.
“President Obama just told the nation during his State of the Union address that because Congress has been unable to act, he would take executive action where he could on behalf of helping the American people,” he said. “The president has the authority to reclassify marijuana and could exercise that authority at any time.”