A pro-pot legislator pointedly asked Attorney General Eric Holder why he wants to wait for Congress to loosen marijuana laws.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) reminded Holder during a House Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday that the attorney general had the authority to ask the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct a study of cannabis for the possibility of reclassifying it as an illegal drug.
“In my humble opinion, and I think the majority of the people in this country, there’s no way that marijuana should be Schedule I, because this is not the same class as heroin and LSD, as it is in the code,” Cohen said.
The lawmaker said its classification alongside much harder drugs “breeds contempt for our laws,” and he said there is strong medical evidence in favor of less restrictive laws against marijuana.
Cohen said voters in 20 states had approved legal use of marijuana for medical purposes, including the treatment of multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and seizures.
“Schedule I says it has no medical benefit,” Cohen said. “Well, that just fallacious, and the fact that it says a high likelihood of abuse – it’s nothing like heroin, that’s absurd.”
Holder told the House Appropriations Committee that he would be “more than glad to work with Congress” if lawmakers wished to study how marijuana is scheduled.
But Cohen compared Congress to a tortoise, saying that lawmakers would not poke their heads out on the issue unless public support was clear and overwhelming.
The Democrat reminded Holder that the Obama administration had issued executive orders on minimum wage, environmental, and immigration laws, so what not pot?
“Why won’t the administration act with the pen and the phone to help people out by taking this out of schedule I so it can be studied” Cohen said. “Because I think we’re all in favor of research.”
Holder said he believes his office has acted responsibly on the issue, arguing that his policies reflect the limited resources and local enforcement issues faced by federal law enforcement.
But Cohen said all the attorney general had to do was ask Sec. Kathleen Sebelius to order the study.
“Why not initiate the opportunity for the secretary to make the study and base it on science?” he said. “Until you do that, it’s not going to happen.”
Holder said he was satisfied with what his office had done on the issue.
“Within the world in which I have primary responsibility, I think we have acted in a way that is appropriate,” Holder said.
But Cohen again said the attorney general had the authority to begin the process of reclassifying marijuana as Schedule I drug – and it wouldn’t cost his office anything.
“That’s all you have to do is request it,” Cohen said. “That doesn’t take away from your limited resources.”
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