The Obama administration has denied a bid by two Democratic governors to reconsider how it treats marijuana under federal drug control laws, keeping the drug for now, at least, in the most restrictive category for U.S. law enforcement purposes.
Drug Enforcement Administration chief Chuck Rosenberg says the decision is rooted in science. Rosenberg gave "enormous weight" to conclusions by the Food and Drug Administration that marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," and by some measures, it remains highly vulnerable to abuse as the most commonly used illicit drug across the nation.
"This decision isn't based on danger. This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine," he said, "and it's not."
Marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, alongside heroin and LSD, while other, highly addictive substances including oxycodone and methamphetamine are regulated differently under Schedule II of the law. But marijuana's designation has nothing to do with danger, Rosenberg said.
In a letter to the petitioners, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and New Mexico nurse practitioner Bryan Krumm, Rosenberg said doctors are responsible for treating patients, but the FDA makes decisions about drug safety: "Simply put, evaluating the safety and effectiveness of drugs is a highly specialized endeavor."
Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, said in a statement that the decision was disappointing.
"President Obama always said he would let science — and not ideology — dictate policy, but in this case his administration is upholding a failed drug war approach instead of looking at real, existing evidence that marijuana has medical value," he wrote.
Most Americans support legalization, Angell wrote, and the federal government should at a minimum leave regulatory decisions to the states.
I don't use pot myself, but like most Americans I know people who do. I don't think it's a huge deal considering how many Americans die from smoking or booze every year, both of which are regulated, taxed, and still sold to people. The real problem is the criminal justice aspect of federal pot laws (and state laws), which imprison tens of thousands every year , a disproportionate amount being black and Latino when the majority of pot users are white.
It's completely up to the Obama administration to determine whether or not pot is a Schedule I drug or not, and the president is making it very, very clear that it will continue to be. That's unfortunate for any number of reasons, and it will become Hillary Clinton's problem to deal with starting next January (I hope...)
Regardless, I expect this to change pretty quickly should large states like California legalize recreational pot use, and several states including California will be holding votes in November to do just that. Having enough states legalize, regulate and tax pot is going to eventually cause the necessity for federal statues to be changed.
We've seen it before with same-sex marriage.