Eighteen congressmembers write Obama, demanding marijuana reclassification as legal drug

By John Byrne
Thursday, February 13, 2014 9:48 EDT
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A marijuana plant at sunset. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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WASHINGTON — In a bold move Wednesday, eighteen members of Congress signed a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to drop marijuana from a list of illegal substances deemed to be of no medical value and move it into a category allowing for legal medical and recreational use.

The letter, which was authored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), began to circulate in January after President Obama told The New Yorker he didn’t believe marijuana was any more dangerous than alcohol. Its final signatories came through on Wednesday, and was leaked online Wednesday afternoon.

“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,’” the congressmembers wrote. “This is true. Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I . This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs. This makes no sense.”

President Obama fueled new calls for decriminalization after a frank interview with The New Yorker’s top editor in January. He said, ”As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I substance, meaning the government looks upon it as having the same dangers as heroin, ecstasy and LSD. The congressmemembers seek to change that–they’re asking that Obama move the drug into a legal class so it can be taxed, or do away with its classification entirely.

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 allows Obama to ”remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if [it] finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule.”

Obama, however, seemed puzzled by the law when asked about it by CNN’s Jake Tapper earlier this year.

“What is and isn’t a Schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress,” he said. “It’s not something by ourselves that we start changing. No, there are laws under – undergirding those determinations.”

The congressmembers disagree. They also posit that marijuana’s classification is ruining lives. In a statement, Blumenauer added that Obama would improve the credibility of drug policing by taking action.

“The Administration needs recognize the relative dangers of these drugs if it wants to restore its credibility,” Blumenauer wrote in a Wednesday statement. “The first step is to reschedule marijuana, which the Administration can do unilaterally. We can’t let this arbitrary and incorrect bureaucratic classification ruin any more lives.”

“We believe the current system wastes resources and destroys lives, in turn damaging families and communities,” his letter says. “Taking action on this issue is long overdue.”

Only one Republican put his name to the letter, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. Along with Blumenaeur, its other signatories were Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Sam Farr (D-CA), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Mike Honda (D-CA), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Jim Moran (D-VA), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Jared Polis (D-CO), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Peter Welch (D-VT).

The letter, which appears below, was obtained by U.S. News and World Report.

Following is a video of Blumenauer speaking to Congress on the issue.

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