House Democrats are seeking to amp up the pressure on President Barack Obama to use his now-infamous "phone and pen" to do more than just raise the minimum wage for federal workers: They want him to aid in the reclassification of marijuana.
On Wednesday, 17 Democrats — and Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California — sent a letter to Obama asking that he "instruct" Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. "to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II."
They argue that the two most extreme tiers of classification of the drug disregards its proven medicinal value and overstates the extent to which it is harmful. They say it also perpetuates a criminal justice system in which certain segments of the population are disproportionately targeted and arrested on charges that haunt them for life.
"Furthermore," the letter, spearheaded by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., continues, "one would hope that ... your Administration officials publicly reflect your views on this matter. Statements such as the one from DEA chief of operations James L. Capra that the legalization of marijuana at the state level is 'reckless and irresponsible' serve no purposes other than to inflame passions and misinform the public."
Democrats who support legalization of marijuana, or in the very least its decriminalization, are emboldened by statements Obama made in a recent New Yorker article suggesting that he doesn't see the drug as intrinsically more dangerous to the individual consumer than alcohol. But in an interview a few weeks later with CNN's Jake Tapper, the president put the ball in Congress's court in terms of when, how and to what extent marijuana policy should be changed.
In 2013, Rohrabacher introduced the "Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013 ," which would "legalize marijuana at the federal level to the extent it is legal at the state level."
Separately, one of the letter signers, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, introduced a bill that would end a ban on the so-called "drug czar" studying the legalization of Schedule I drugs.
Read the full letter below:
We were encouraged by your recent comments in your interview with David Remnick in the January 27, 2014 issue of the New Yorker, about the shifting public opinion on the legalization of marijuana. We request that you take action to help alleviate the harms to society caused by the federal Schedule I classification of marijuana.
Lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws. Nearly two-thirds of a million people every year are arrested for marijuana possession. We spend billions every year enforcing marijuana laws, which disproportionately impact minorities. According to the ACLU, black Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite comparable marijuana usage rates.
You said that you don’t believe marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol: a fully legalized substance, and believe it to be less dangerous “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.” This is true. Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, the strictest classification, along with heroin and LSD. This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs. This makes no sense.
Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system. Schedule I recognizes no medical use, disregarding both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana. A Schedule I or II classification also means that marijuana businesses in states where adult or medical use are legal cannot deduct business expenses from their taxes or take tax credits due to Section 280E of the federal tax code.
We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II. Furthermore, one would hope that that your Administration officials publicly reflect your views on this matter. Statements such as the one from DEA chief of operations James L. Capra that the legalization of marijuana at the state level is “reckless and irresponsible” serve no purposes other than to inflame passions and misinform the public.
Thank you for your continued thoughtfulness about this important issue. We believe the current system wastes resources and destroys lives, in turn damaging families and communities. Taking action on this issue is long overdue.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.
Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.
Sam Farr, D-Calif.
Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz.
Michael M. Honda, D-Calif.
Jared Huffman, D-Calif.
Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.
Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif.
Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
James P. Moran, D-Va.
Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas
Jared Polis, D-Colo.
Mike Quigley, D-Ill.
Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.
Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.
Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
Peter Welch, D-Vt.