Obama Just Took One Big Step Towards Marijuana Legalization

As the nation marches further down the long but seemingly inevitable road of marijuana decriminalization and legalization, President Barack Obama just made things a lot easier. On Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Obama administration is ready to work with Congress to take marijuana off the federal government's list of the most dangerous drugs. 

"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 a 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."

This is a strong affirmation from an administration that seems to be increasingly moving towards a more lenient, if not open stance on marijuana legislation reform. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, the attorney general has the authority to "remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule." However, Holder didn't say that he would utilize this power and seems more interested in working together with interested members of Congress. 

Working together. Luckily for Holder, it shouldn't be too difficult to find interested members of Congress. Though there is still a lively debate on the issue, numerous congressmen have indicated an interest in rescheduling marijuana. In February, 18 congressmen went as far as to send Obama a formal letter indicating their strong desire to reevaluate how the federal government treats marijuana. This came shortly after Obama told David Remnick in the New Yorker that he believes pot is no more dangerous than alcohol. 


Image Credit: Getty

Already opposition. However, not everyone is as thrilled with these changes. Last week, Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart even said that shifts in public opinion, state laws and the temper of the Obama administration have just motivated her to "fight harder" against the spread and acceptance of marijuana in America. But while Leonhart may believe this is her duty, a recent poll showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans feel strongly that the DEA's tactics have been fruitless and punishment should be replaced more often with treatment. Not only that, but an increasing number of Americans are also echoing Obama's sentiment and saying that alcohol is actually more harmful than marijuana. 

Currently, marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug, meaning it has "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." Schedule I drugs are considered "the most dangerous drugs ... with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence." The other drugs in this category are heroin, LSD, ecstasy, Quaaludes and peyote — yeah, some pretty serious stuff. Not only would rescheduling marijuana open up the possibilities for much-needed scientific research, it would also allow marijuana-related businesses in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal to take tax deductions and normalize many of their business practices. Many politicians who've voiced opposition to marijuana decriminalization or legalization point to the drug's currently DEA classification as the cause of their concern: don't mess with Schedule I drugs. But if marijuana is rescheduled — as it arguably should be, the DEA considers both cocaine and crystal meth less dangerous — many Americans will likely have an easier time viewing marijuana in a less damning light. 

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Matt Essert

Matt is the news director at Mic, covering breaking news. He is based in New York and can be reached at matt@mic.com.

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