Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Eighteen members of Congress wrote to President Obama on Wednesday (PDF) urging him to take executive action to change the classification of marijuana under the DEA's schedule of controlled substances.
"Lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws," the letter explains. "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."
To help remedy this situation, the members urge the President to take executive action and direct Attorney General Eric Holder to remove marijuana from the DEA's Schedule I list, supposedly reserved for the most dangerous, addictive and disorienting drugs like LSD and heroin. The letter asks that Obama eliminate marijuana from Schedule I and Schedule II, both of which would criminalize the substance.
Members of the House who signed the bill are nearly all Democrats save but for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), one of a small group of Republicans who want the federal government to respect state marijuana laws.
Other members include Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Sam Farr (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Mike Honda (D-AZ), and Jared Polis (D-CO), among others -- all known for advocating for drug reform. Cohen also introduced a bill on Wednesday that would strike a law that prohibits the Office of National Drug Control Policy to study the potential effects of marijuana legalization.
Obama recently said that he believes marijuana to be less harmful than alcohol "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer." He added in a follow-up interview that the Schedule I classification of the drug is a matter for Congress to determine, calling the criminal penalty issues surrounding marijuana "a problem."
The Controlled Substances Act explicitly allows the president to request that his attorney general delist a substance from the schedule if it "does not meet the requirements for inclusion."
To that effect, the members asked that Obama instruct Holder "to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II." They also asked that Obama's top officials begin reflecting his views in public, calling out DEA chief of operations James L. Capra for recently saying that state-level legalization initiatives are "reckless and irresponsible.'" Such a statement, they wrote, only serves to "inflame passions and misinform the public."
"No drug should be listed as Schedule I, which limits potentially life-saving research into both benefits and dangers of a substance and guarantees a violent, illegal market for the product," Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said in an advisory. "This is even more true of marijuana right now, when after four decades of failure, states are doing their best to find something that works and federal regulations keep interfering with their ability to do so."
Read the whole letter here.