Marijuana

Pot Smokers at White House Protest Obama's Disinterest in Reclassifying Marijuana

The president prefers to pretend that rescheduling requires congressional action.

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Reasov TV

More than 100 people smoked pot outside the White House on Saturday to protest marijuana's status as a Schedule I substance, the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The protest was organized by the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which sponsored the 2014 ballot initiative that legalized possession, home cultivation, and sharing of marijuana in the nation's capital. The group is frustrated by President Obama's failure to pursue administrative rescheduling of marijuana, despite his youthful cannabis consumption, his concession that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, and his mostly hands-off approach to state legalization. 

Schedule I is supposedly reserved for drugs with a high abuse potential that have no accepted medical use and cannot be taken safely, even under a doctor's supervision. Although it is doubtful that marijuana meets any of those criteria, let alone all three of them, Obama has shown no interest in reclassifying it, insisting that such a decision requires action by Congress. 

That's clearly not true. The CSA gives rescheduling authority to the attorney general, who has delegated that power to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA insists that marijuana must remain in Schedule I because it has no "currently accepted medical use," which it says can be established only by the sort of large, expensive clinical trials that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires before approving a new medicine. While federal courts have deferred to the DEA's interpretation of the CSA, the agency has discretion to change its mind.

Moving marijuana to a lower schedule—a step supported by the sponsors of the CARERS Act and the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential nominee—would facilitate medical research and could resolve a big income tax headache for state-licensed marijuana merchants, who are currently barred from deducting business expenses. It would also send a signal that could affect the prospects for state medical marijuana legislation and medical defenses in criminal cases. But rescheduling would not automatically make marijuana legally available as a medicine, since any preparation that doctors could prescribe would first have to be approved by the FDA.

By contrast, descheduling marijuana—removing it entirely from the list of controlled substances—would effectively repeal national pot prohibition, allowing people to use the drug for medical or recreational purposes without violating federal law. That seems to be the goal that the D.C. Cannabis Campaign has in mind, since it called Saturday's protest the "Emergency National Mobilization to Deschedule Cannabis." Yet removing marijuana from the CSA's schedules, as opposed to changing its classification, probably would require new legislation.

That's because the CSA says "if control is required by United States obligations under international treaties, conventions, or protocols in effect on October 27, 1970, the Attorney General shall issue an order controlling such drug under the schedule he deems most appropriate." Under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, nonmedical production, distribution, and possession of cannabis are supposed to be criminalized.

That agreement, however, does not mean states are required to ban marijuana. The treaty says the obligations of signatories are subject to "constitutional limitations," and the U.S. Constitution gives states the leeway to make their own decisions about whether to criminalize marijuana-related conduct. Even if the Single Convention did not include that exception, a treaty cannot trump the Constitution.

The issue of marijuana policy in the District of Columbia, a jurisdiction subject to direct control by Congress, is somewhat different. But despite grumbling from hardcore drug warriors, Congress has allowed legalization to take effect in its own backyard, even while blocking plans to license and regulate commercial production and distribution.

That forbearance helps explain why the mass show of civil disobedience at the White House on Saturday did not result in any arrests. Although public cannabis consumption remains illegal in D.C., it is a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine. ABC News reports that local police cited two protesters. Federal law allows arrests for possession and prescribes more severe penalties, but "a Park Police spokeswoman told ABC News that they had no jurisdiction over the demonstrators since they remained on Pennsylvania Avenue and did not enter the park area." 

Reason TV covered the protest:

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  1. Even if the Single Convention did not include that exception, a treaty cannot trump the Constitution.

    You know what can trump the U.S. Constitution? No, not Hitler. The War on Drug Users. It can and does regularly supplant the Bill of Rights as the law of the land.

    1. You’re high

      1. Fist is Towelie?

        Who knew?

    2. Hitler? No, you ruled him out.

      Umm…..I’m stumped.

    3. War-time powers is the nod-and-a-wink secret part of the Constitution that allows the government – in a non-suicide pact sort of way – to kinda sorta temporarily ignore inconvenient parts of the Constitution. War on Drugs, War on Poverty, War on Terrorism – they all expand the state’s power.in ways it’s downright unpatriotic to protest.

      1. Drug prohibition is the fault of not enough government. A progressive actually told me so.

        1. What was the reasoning?

          1. The principal supporters of drug prohibition, it seems, are the religious right and the Republican establishment, both of which support smaller government (if only). Also, drug prohibition makes money for the private-prison industry and is therefore the fault of cronyism, which, as we all know, is the exact same thing as libertarianism.

            1. Well I’m convinced.

              (thanks, that must have been a painful conversation to experience)

            2. A guy tried to convince me that cutting spending was bad because Republicans were in favor of it.

              Not as bad as your guy, obviously, but we know people who would be very happy together.

    4. Mexicans and ass sex. Pot, not so much.

    5. Thanks, Jacob, for making the point that treaties can’t trump the Constitution. I see that idea floating around a lot, it seems. There’s a flavor of proggie who wants to end-run the Constitution with treaties on gun control, hate speech, etc. They appear to be semi-literate, as they read this:

      This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

      to somehow mean that treaties override the federal Constitution.

      1. Nope; treaties can only override State constitutions. We went through that during the Cold War and it turns out the ABM Treaty and both versions of SALT were unconstitutional. Article VI, paragraph 2, specifies only that the treaty-making power takes precedence over “anything in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” Furthermore, the very last clause of Section 10 in Article I allows the states to defend themselves if “actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.” This was hashed out in Physics Today beginning the April 1986 issue. Search “Unconstitutionality of the ABM Treaty”
        Calvin Coolige came to similar conclusions November 2, 1923, about treaties, the Volstead Act and the Constitution. I welcome State-run SDI antimissile systems and the Libertarian Defense Caucus was always for Strategic Defense against incoming nuclear weapons.

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  2. Obama has a pen and a phone to write new laws if Congress won’t bow to his grand designs, but changing how the law is enforced? Sorry folks, Dear Leader’s hands are tied.

    1. And the Obots believe it with perfect faith, even if you show them the exact words of the CSA that say otherwise.

  3. Wait, what’re we protesting?

    *puff, puff, pass*

    1. Hey, I think I know that guy in the middle.

      1. Is that a Free Luna Liberty cap in the picture?

  4. Well, Senator Venezuela has praised economic rationing and breadlines, not to mention the Sandanistas, so his perspective may be a bit… skewed.

    1. Whoops, wrong article.

  5. the only two things I was actually excited about obama for were a) we won’t be a country where “a black man can’t be president” anymore, and b) he’s GOTTA legalize weed. those both worked out, um, interestingly.

  6. “Disinterest” or “Lack of Interest”?

    Regardless of who occupies the office, POTUS can not be “disinterested” since his DOJ is the one charged with enforcing the laws.

    Yeah, I’m being pendantic, but sloppy use of words is why many of these issues never get resolved.

    1. Most uses of “disinterest” should be replaced by “indifference.”

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  8. Obama has shown no interest in reclassifying it, insisting that such a decision requires action by Congress.

    Of course not. If he actually rescheduled it then he couldn’t use the issue against those meany-fo-feaney RETHUGLIKKKANZ in Congress. If they weren’t the Stupid party, Congress would call his bluff and actually pass legislation to reschedule, or better yet, to deschedule MJ.

    1. but you gotta hand it to them for sticking to their principles over political expediency, right?

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  11. Just why couldn’t the Schedule the Attorney General “deems most appropriate” be “none” … ?!

  12. Reclassifying marijuna will sharply reduce the power of government to fuck with anyone, anytime, anywhere, by removing a handy pretext. The last thing a scumbag like Obama ever wants to do is reduce governmental power.

    -jcr

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