Where Hillary Clinton's Marijuana Proposal Falls Short

Moving pot to Schedule II is weak tea compared to Bernie Sanders' support for repealing federal prohibition.



During an appearance in South Carolina on Saturday, Hillary Clinton said marijuana should be moved from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the most restrictive category, to Schedule II, which is for drugs that have recognized medical applications but also "a high potential for abuse." Other Schedule II drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, and oxycodone. Here is how the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee explained her position:

What I do want is for us to support research into medical marijuana because a lot more states have passed medical marijuana than have legalized marijuana, so we've got two different experiences or even experiments going on right now. And the problem with medical marijuana is there's a lot of anecdotal evidence about how well it works for certain conditions, but we haven't done any research. Why? Because it's considered what's called a Schedule I drug, and you can't even do research on it. 

Although it's not true that marijuana's placement in Schedule I makes research impossible, it is true that the drug's current classification makes research more difficult because it imposes additional regulatory burdens on investigators and their employers. Marijuana's legal status may also deter image-conscious institutions from supporting studies of the plant's medical applications. Moving marijuana to Schedule II is one provision of the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which was introduced in March by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). The change also could be made administratively without new legislation, and it's not clear which approach Clinton has in mind.


Clinton's reclassification proposal is weak tea compared to her rival Bernie Sanders' bill removing marijuana from the CSA's schedules entirely, which would let states decide how to treat the drug without federal interference. Clinton does not support legalization, although she agrees the decision should be left to the states (which is the position taken by most of the Republican presidential candidates). Her rescheduling plan also falls short in failing to address another important barrier to medical studies: the federal monopoly on production of marijuana for research, which is done exclusively at the University of Mississippi under contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The CARERS Act would require the Drug Enforcement Administration to license additional suppliers, as it does with other Schedule I substances.

The Huffington Post reports that moving marijuana down one schedule would amount to "reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug" with "less abuse potential." That is not quite right. Although the drugs in Schedules III through V are supposed to have progressively less abuse potential, Schedule I and II substances officially have the same abuse potential. The main difference is that Schedule I drugs have "no currently accepted medical use" and therefore "a lack of accepted safety for use…under medical supervision."

You could read the latter criterion as implying that Schedule I drugs are more dangerous than Schedule II drugs—meaning that marijuana is more dangerous than, say, morphine or methamphetamine. But if a drug is not accepted as a medicine, it's hard to see how it could legally be used "under medical supervision," safely or not. Furthermore, putting marijuana in Schedule II, although it would make research somewhat easier and send a signal about how the federal government views the drug, would not automatically make marijuana legally available as a medicine, since any cannabis preparation still would have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Sanders, who is the first major-party presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization at the state level and descheduling at the federal level, notes that Clinton's proposal does nothing to address the 700,000 or so marijuana busts that American cops make every year. "I am glad to see Secretary Clinton is beginning to address an issue that my legislation addressed," he said in a statement on Saturday, "but her approach ignored the major issue. Secretary Clinton would classify marijuana in the same category as cocaine and continue to make marijuana a federally regulated substance. If we are serious about criminal justice reform and preventing many thousands of lives from being impacted because of criminal convictions for marijuana possession, we must remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and allow states the right to go forward, if they choose, to legalize marijuana without federal legal impediments."

[This post has been corrected to eliminate my stupid implication that Clinton, who left the Senate in 2009, could have cosponsored a bill introduced this year.]

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  1. Hillary thinks she’s going to win the base by throwing bones. Or, at least, stop getting uncomfortable questions.

    1. Worked for Obama. Look what happened when one of his *staffers* made noises about medical MJ. Lok what happened when he made some pro-gay marriage noises before the last election. Look what happened when he made some ‘close Gitmo’ noises, when he made some ‘leave Iraq’ noises.

    1. Are you a pirate?

  2. Hillary will claim credit for Sanders’ bill when she finally realizes that is the direction the country is headed.

    1. I just don’t understand what’s stopping her from realizing it already. She’s usually so good at shifting with the wind. She must think she can get away with lying later that she’s always supported MJ legalization.

      1. Maybe it’s the PAC’s that are funding her… Police unions, prison unions, big pharm, lawyers, and the people she will appoint to say head of DEA, DOJ, ect that stand to profit from it continuing to be illicit. Sanders is taking the stance of the individuals that are donating to his run… Only difference is, super PACs aren’t voters, the individual is.

  3. Only the central committee knows what’s best for you and will test this plant over and over and then maybe will allow you to use the plant to place into your body which is controlled by central committee.

    1. It’s all right there. Page 14,723 of the 5 year plan.

  4. “The change also could be made administratively without new legislation, and it’s not clear which approach Clinton has in mind.”

    That depends on how much buck-passing she wants to do.

    It’s not reassuring that this Schedule II stuff constitutes appeasing the base during the primaries.

    If this is what appealing to the base looks like, I shudder to think what her “centrism” moving into the general election would look like.

    In the middle of the road, you see the darndest things

    1. Same amount as all her predecessors.

      Obama said that the determination can only be made by the DoJ. Despite him being the head of the Executive Branch. DoJ, of course, says that its not their call.

  5. Why not compromise and move it to Schedule V?

    I mean, if its going to be on the CSA *at all* then V is obviously where it belongs. It has accepted medical uses and it has a low (non-existent) risk of dependency. People stop being thrown in jail for it so much and the Drug Warriors still get their warrior on.

    In any case, moving it off of Schedule I – no matter where it ends up – means that it will be available to anyone for the cost of a prescription within a decade.

    But no matter what, it will never be fully legalized (ie, unregulated) on the federal level nor at the state level in most states.

    1. I still can’t understand how a plant can be illegal. That’s just weird.

      I can see prohibiting or regulating the refining of certain biological products, like heroin, cocaine or aconitine. But banning the coca plant just seems silly. It has been a domesticated plant for thousands of years, just like all of our food plants. But suddenly it becomes illegal (without a prescription) about 100 years ago. And that choice never really got re-examined. Only ratcheted up.

      1. Cocaine has been made from a plant that was domesticated millennia ago. So is heroin.

      2. I still can’t understand how a plant can be illegal.

        That’s because you aren’t a control freak. Look at these actions through the lens of control, rather than the lens of rational public safety and it all makes sense. Public safety is just an excuse used by group A to stop group B from doing something that group A thinks is distasteful.

        1. Public safety is just an excuse used by group A to stop assault group B from doing something that group A thinks is distasteful.

          No need to understate it.

          1. RC, that’s it exactly… This isn’t a drug war. It has always been a culture war!

      3. Ironically the whole banning substances like marijuana has led to the creation of some very dangerous drugs. Like pcp, Moly, and the 300 + identified spice synthetic drugs (k2 ect). Everyone of those drugs I listed were created to bypass the drugs that are controlled. Especially the recent synthetic drugs that people have been using to avoid drug testing and legal troubles. People who want to be altered, people who want to experiment, will always do it. Maybe it’s time to completely rethink how we approach addiction and drugs. Because what we are doing is not working, it’s becoming an uncontrollable epidemic. Look at Mexico, where they have less rights and they can’t even slow it down, not even with unwarranted stops and searches. It’s a huge mess, it’s the very definition of insanity, and thankfully guys like Sanders are willing to try a different approach.

    2. Rescheduling cannabis to any schedule number will only make the FDA in control of cannabis availability. We don’t need big Pharma and doctors controlling who gets what. We should deschedule cannabis like alcohol and tobacco. And when it’s legalized for both medical and non-medical purposes, anyone should be able the benefit economically from its legalization, and consumers should be able to grow enough for themselves and their friends. There is no good reason why the supply chain be divided up like alcohol where producers, distributors and retailers are prohibited from participating in more than one part.

    3. Never? Do you think the holdouts will pass up that tax money?

  6. Don’t worry, she’ll say something different a month from now anyway.

  7. Drug warriors exist for a reason, just like tea totallers. There used to be opium dens and people were adicted to laudinum, etc. Of course, this was all long before the science-based drug industry and product liability laws existed as it does today.

    So I suppose the article that is begging to be written is “Why does prohibition exist?” It would examine the history of drug use, customs and the societal ills that were (rightly or wrongly) blamed on drugs. Most of this history probably predates the modern welfare system as well, so it is likely a very tangled web of poverty, addictive personalities and criminal activity to support themselves.

    The “sin” crimes of gambling, prostitution, drugs (and formerly alcohol) were all perfectly legal at one point in this nation’s history. Prostitutes and gamblers are even celebrated in many of the old westerns of the 1950’s, despite the era’s often puritan bent.

    “Leaders” like Clinton “lead” wherever the wind blows. Right now it is blowing against pot prohibition, but for most of the last 100 years it has been blowing strongly against drugs. Surely the people gave up their liberty in exchange for something. What was the something that so reviled the nation that anti-drug puritanism is still the predominant attitude in public spaces, even a few generations later?

    1. So I suppose the article that is begging to be written is “Why does prohibition exist?” It would examine the history of drug use, customs and the societal ills that were (rightly or wrongly) blamed on drugs.

      Oh lord. That article has already been written. *Books* have been written.

      Here, I’ll plug one of our own writers.…..1585423181

      What was the something that so reviled the nation that anti-drug puritanism is still the predominant attitude in public spaces, even a few generations later?

      The Youts and the BSPs.

      1. Hey, that author looks familiar….

      2. The drug laws are largely racist in their original roots.

        So, the something that reviled the nation was blacks, Mexicans, and Asians.

        Why they are still on the books is another, more interesting question.

        1. The first drug prohibition in the United States was in San Fransico in the 1850’s. Opium became illegal in the city limits with the open intent to push Chinese workers out of town. Every community that banned substances after that, used some form of racism (often very openingly) to create drug laws. The very ideology of the temperance movement and prohibition is a mental disorder.

    2. Prostitutes and gamblers are even celebrated…

      I wouldn’t say they were celebrated. More like they were caricatures used to set the time period and mood.

      Like I said above, the history of prohibition is about control, not public safety. The people who vote gave up their liberty to stop others from doing something they found distasteful. The people who didn’t or couldn’t vote got carried along for the ride.

    3. Oh. Yeah. Addictive personalities. Could you describe the characteristics of such personalities?


      No? Well I can. People with PTSD.

  8. This is why I’m concerned she could win. She will shift positions as the campaign moves and really won’t be stringently called on it. She’ll be labelled a common sense pragmatist, no radical like Sanders or Rubio.

  9. The change also could be made administratively without new legislation,…

    The fact that Obama has not already made this administrative change via executive order speaks volumes. So many people supported Obama because they expected him to be “good” on a particular issue like the war on drugs, the wars overseas, and criminal justice reform. You could argue that the latter two are just too difficult to do because they require too much cooperation from other entities like Congress, or State and local law enforcement, but ordering the re-scheduling of MJ would be easy and he didn’t even do that. Hopefully his supporters have learned a lesson about projecting their hopes onto an empty suit.

  10. weak tea

    Oh, you!

    *** giggles ***

  11. One of the problems with Hillary’s promise to reschedule is the same as the problem with everything else she says. She’s a liar. If she keeps any of her promises once she gets into the White House, it’ll just be a coincidence.

    I don’t think Hillary’s supporters even expect her to keep any of her promises. They support her despite all the whoppers she’s told in the past. They support Hillary despite her having taken donations from foreign governments while she was the Secretary of State. Anyone who expects Hillary to behave ethically or do what she says she’s going to do is pathologically na?ve.

    P.S. What ever happened to that joker who called Sullum out saying that rescheduling was unpossible?

    1. In regards to that guy who claimed Sullum was wrong and the rescheduling was impossible, it was Mark Kleiman. I found this quote from several days ago.

      “However, Mark Kleiman, Professor of Public Policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs, argues that the best that could happen under Sander’s executive authority is that marijuana is rescheduled. He says while the Presidential administration has the authority to reschedule cannabis, “the Controlled Substances Act is a law,” and therefore “it cannot be changed by administrative fiat.”…..tion-sight

      Looks like Mark Kleiman learned something from Sullum after all!


      1. Did he say that it was impossible? Or that it was just meaningless?

        1. Kleiman was criticizing a post in which Sullum took Obama to task because Obama claimed he didn’t have the authority as President* to reschedule.

          “At first he claimed I had exaggerated the impact of rescheduling, which was weird, since the post he was criticizing said nothing about the impact of rescheduling, focusing instead on the question of whether the Obama administration has the authority to reclassify marijuana without new legislation from Congress. As Kleiman conceded, the answer to that question is yes.”


          *Somehow Obama claimed to have the authority to declare war on Libya and execute American citizens abroad without a trial, but that’s another topic.

          1. *Somehow Obama claimed to have the authority to declare war on Libya and execute American citizens abroad without a trial, but that’s another topic.

            And it appears that he was right, the law not withstanding.

  12. “The CARERS Act?which Clinton is not cosponsoring….”

    Well I’m not cosponsoring it either. Because neither of us is in Congress.

    1. Oh, Gee, you found an editing error on a blog?


      Do you do punctuation and spelling, too?

      1. That’s a little more than a typo, Ken.

        1. Yeah, it was an editing error.

      2. Being an English teacher, it’s hard not to. If there was an edit button, I’d do it all the time.

  13. It will be entertaining to watch international socialist Bernie beat whatever national socialist God’s Own Party offers as sacrifice. Even more entertaining hearing the shrieks as the IRS asset-forfeits their swimming pools, jets and golf courses. So long as the LP manages to triple its tally by seeing that voters are given passwords to check how their ballots were counted, it will all be worth it.

  14. Both parties have failed half of their constituency by not getting something done about this unfair treatment over a weed! When one person gets it together, maybe things will change. The R-s have to worry about losing votes. What is the problem with the D-s?!

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