Mark Kleiman Concedes Obama Has the Power To Reclassify Marijuana but Claims It's Ignorant to Say So



On Friday I noted that, contrary to what President Obama said in his recent CNN interview, the executive branch does have the power to reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). For some reason, that observation irked UCLA drug policy expert Mark Kleiman, who claims (rather inconsistently) that I am 1) ignorant of the facts, 2) willfully blind to the facts because they clash with my libertarian ideology, and 3) motivated to criticize Obama by financial gain rather than sincere conviction:

The discussion of "rescheduling" marijuana is confused because most of the people engaged in it don't know how the law works.

Jacob Sullum, always willing to let his ignorance be the measure of other people's knowledge, utterly unwilling to let mere facts get in the way of libertarian ideology, and eager to please his paymasters by slagging a Democratic President, illustrates my point in his response to the latest CNN Obama interview.

A few paragraphs down, Kleiman concedes that "yes, authority to reschedule cannabis lies with the Administration." So what I said was correct yet somehow also ignorant and unfactual.

Even if I had misrepresented the administration's authority under the Controlled Substances Act (which Kleiman admits I did not), in what sense would that illustrate my libertarian bias? No matter who is charged with saying which drugs people are not allowed to have, the CSA is not a libertarian statute by any stretch of the imagination.

But Kleiman says I am not really motivated by libertarianism anyway. Rather, I am in it for the money, "eager to please [my] paymasters by slagging a Democratic President." Exactly who are these "paymasters," and why do they hate Democrats in particular? Kleiman does not say, possibly because this is a generic ad hominem attack he uses against people he perceives as political opponents, whether or not he has any facts to back it up.

In any case, anyone who is even vaguely familar with my work knows it is absurd to suggest that I criticize Democrats while giving Republicans a pass. Two days before I criticized Obama for speaking as if he were powerless to reschedule marijuana, I defended him against an attack by a Republican senator who objected to his statement that marijuana is safer than alcohol. A couple of weeks before that, I took issue with another Republican senator who criticized Obama for allowing legalization to proceed in Colorado and Washington by refraining from arresting and prosecuting state-licensed marijuana suppliers.

More generally, while Obama is the president I have been "slagging" most since January 2009, I was never shy about slagging his Republican predecessor. Last week I linked to some of that criticism while arguing that Republicans who fault Obama for abusing executive power, if they want to be taken seriously, should not downplay similar sins committed by Republican presidents. In case it still is not clear, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Republican Party. But in Kleiman's mind, I am a partisan interested only in picking apart members of the other team.

Kleiman also suggests that if I really understood how the law works, I would have criticized the administration for impeding research by maintaining a monopoly on production of marijuana used in studies. Yeah, why have I never talked about that?

The one valid point Kleiman makes is that placing marijuana on a lower schedule would not automatically make it available by prescription, since any cannabis preparation would still have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But the practical impact of reclassifying marijuana is distinct from the question of whether it meets the criteria for Schedule I and whether the Obama administration has the power to move it, which is what I was talking about in the post that set Kleiman off, as people who actually read it may be surprised to learn.