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Obama Will Reschedule Cannabis by the Year’s End

President Obama speaking to an audience about rescheduling marijuana.
Photo by Pete Souza

Joint Opinions

Obama Will Reschedule Cannabis by the Year’s End

I’m not the kind of person that makes big predictions based on a gut feeling but recent changes within the Obama administration have left me feeling bullish. I pride myself on being something of a political thermometer. I try to watch the minute details and anticipate movements before they happen. Politics is a complicated chess game and oftentimes it feels as though the Obama Administration is playing behind a curtain with the lights off.

So much of President Obama’s policy agenda has been defined by high profile battles in Congress and the public sphere that the move President Obama is about to make is as much about politics as it is about good public policy.

I’ll call it now and say that by the end of the year, President Obama is going to announce a rescheduling of cannabis from a Schedule I narcotic to at least a schedule III substance.

Now, traditionally this kind of prediction would be met with a collective eye roll from “the movement’s” establishment but I’m confident that this change is coming.

Many, including myself, have celebrated President Obama’s declaration that [marijuana is] no more dangerous than alcohol.”  Countless social media posts have celebrated Eric Holder’s dismissal of marijuana usage as a teen as “youthful experimentation.” The gleeful celebration of these comments has traditionally focused on the hypocrisy of an administration that enforces drug laws while also admitting to have willfully violated them.

This cynical view ignores some critical signs that I believe indicate that rescheduling is incredibly imminent, albeit not until close to or after the election. Here’s why I am so confident.

Much to the chagrin of many marijuana advocates, and I say this with no disrespect, this is not (at least directly) due to any external pressure that the Obama administration is feeling. There isn’t a widespread clamoring among the voting public for rescheduling marijuana. The Obama administration is incredibly poll conscious, especially in an election year that will either expand or restrict the Obama legacy. As we saw with same-sex marriage, this administration has a tendency to use issues to define the President against an outside enemy.

In 2012, while facing an incredibly tough election President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage. Why? Because polling showed that the suburbs (areas of weakness for Democrats that year) had softened their views on same-sex marriage and as a result it provided an opportunity to showcase the compassionate difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

Now, same-sex marriage is clearly different than marijuana policy but it provides an interesting contrast to marijuana policy. In 2012 there was incredible pressure on the White House to take a position on same-sex marriage because of a myriad of court cases headed toward the Supreme Court and working through Federal Courts. While there are court cases relating to marijuana, none of them raise the specter of legalizing marijuana nationwide.

If the same external pressure is not there this time, why am I confident of a change? It is precisely because there is not external pressure that I am bullish. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are comfortable; the mainstream hasn’t adopted marijuana as its cause like it has with same-sex marriage. As the Obama administration has proven, it is incredibly cautious unless it feel pressure. This means that the administration itself has changed. The culture, thinking, and opinion of this administration have shifted.

Shifts like this are uncommon in politics but it is my opinion that Eric Holder has harbored this as an issue of personal importance for some time and that finally, with a re-election out of the way and a legacy on the line he wants to finally do something about the ridiculous number of minorities who are incarcerated for marijuana related offenses.

After all, this is a man who on April 15, 2014 said, “I’m calling on all first responders—including state and local law enforcement agencies—to train and equip their men and women on the front lines to use the overdose-reversal drug known as naloxone.”

A sea change is occurring in the Obama administration. Out of nowhere the Attorney General of the United States, our chief law enforcement officer, has come out against mandatory minimums, overdoses, and is talking openly about “youthful experimentation.”

Now, why am I predicting this change close to or right after the election? The White House knows that this election will either make or break President Obama’s legacy and in order to avoid a repeat of the 2010 elections they need to win demographics that traditionally don’t care about mid-term elections.

While I said earlier that marijuana is not a mainstream issue, it sure is for Millennials and minorities that Democrats need to vote in order to keep the Senate and make gains in the House. Republicans have used the age-old wedge issues of abortion and same-sex marriage for years and in 2014 Democrats are sporting for revenge.

Turner C. Bitton serves as an at-large member of the Democratic National Committee’s Youth Council and as a board member of the Utah Planned Parenthood Action Council. He has served in a variety of capacities within the Democratic Party and lives in Ogden, Utah with his dog and cat. He is a freelance writer for Cannabis Now Magazine and a staunch proponent of ending the War on Drugs.

Do you agree with Turner? Do you think cannabis will be rescheduled federally after the mid-term elections? Tell us in the comments below!

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. monica davis

    May 27, 2014 at 3:13 am

    I’ve paid fines for having marajuana it would be a shame if I went to jail for the only medicine that helps my epilepsy pills and devices vns that I have put in body doesn’t work surgery for nothing I’m so tired of being a pharmaceutical guinea pig when I know marajuana works with no side affects I feel like my government is bought off by companies that wouldn’t have good profits if marajuana was legal I wish my government to have epilepsy one hour and tell me how you feel about the subject then thank you monica davis

  2. Maynard James Keller

    May 5, 2014 at 10:22 am

    There is a related issue here that doesn’t get discussed much: If the administration “reschedules” cannabis, the action will put the US in violation of a major UN treaty the US helped forge.

    This treaty – The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, along with its evolution since then and the passage of several companion treaties, most notably the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances which took effect in 1990, have profoundly shaped the internationalization of the Drug Wars, though international treaties dating back to 1931 helped lay the foundations. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_Convention_on_Narcotic_Drugs.)

    180 nations are now members of The Single Convention. And the whole “scheduling” schema in the treaty was adopted in recognition that the world of drugs would continue to evolve, so the schedules were added to allow the treaty’s parameters to evolve to keep up with the drug markets and scientific findings without having to continually renegotiate new treaties among all these parties, as “the cumbersome process of conference and state-by-state ratification [of changes] could take decades.” This also, in general, allowed for flexibility when medical uses were found on a case by case basis, particularly in the case of pain-killing narcotics, which were the main recognized medical uses when the treaty was crafted.

    Marijuana, however, along with opium plants and the cocoa bush, however were WRITTEN into the treaty, “making it impossible to deregulate them through the normal Scheduling process” and because of this and other provisions and developments, changing the schedule status of cannabis remains problematic. This is true, even though the initial classification of MJ as a Schedule I drug in the early 1970’s was clearly intended by the drafters to be provisional, and despite the fact that the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse released a 1972 report favoring decriminalization of marijuana, which the Nixon administration basically let lie fallow. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_Convention_on_Narcotic_Drugs#Rescheduling_proposals and see more below)

    As the main article notes: “The Single Convention has been extremely influential in standardizing national drug control laws. In particular, the United States’ Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and the United Kingdom’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 were designed to fulfill treaty obligations.

    Both Acts include analogous schemes of drug Scheduling, along with similar procedures for adding, removing, and transferring drugs among the Schedules.

    The Controlled Substances Act follows the Single Convention’s lead in granting a public health authority a central role in drug Scheduling decisions. It also includes a provision mandating that federal authorities control all drugs of abuse at least AS STRICTLY as required by the Single Convention.”

    There has been a lot of jockeying on the status of both medical and recreational cannabis, and NORML’s first major lawsuits (in the 1970’s) attempted to force the government to reschedule cannabis during the Nixon Administration, citing among other sources the National Commission’s 1972 report. And the Administration’s defense was based largely on the US’s not being able to violate the UN treaty (which it had helped shape the evolution of with the 1970 US “War on Drugs” act), establishing precedent that the US is bound by the terms of the various Conventions.

    So as it stands, marijuana’s UN status is complex series of land mines put in place by the prohibitionist mentality, with no clear path to international reform, and leaving the US to flout a Convention it’s been so important in shaping and maintaining if it chooses to reschedule cannabis unilaterally.

    “Cindy Fazey, former Chief of Demand Reduction for the United Nations Drug Control Programme, has pointed out that it would be nearly impossible to loosen international cannabis regulations. Even if the Commission on Narcotic Drugs removed cannabis from Schedule IV of the Single Convention, prohibitions against the plant would remain imbedded in Article 28 and other parts of the treaty. Fazey cited amendment of the Articles and state-by-state denunciation as two theoretical possibilities for changing cannabis’ international legal status, while pointing out that both face substantial barriers.”

    Bottom line: a mess and just more of the enormous detritus of the Drug Wars that has to be cleaned up to develop sound social policy, not just in the US but worldwide.

  3. Jefferey Burnside

    May 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Finally after so many years of hardship. True freedom may exist once again in America.

  4. faye medlock

    May 4, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Yes I agree that it should be descheduled to schedule III or simply enough de listed from the drug schedules completely. It is a plant an herb that the federal government has know the medicinal values of for years, yet still allows DEA to claim it different. To me that is a contradiction of government, a breach of our Constitutional rights,and the government should be held accountable for all the genocide it has allowed under federal mandate.

  5. Mario Covi

    May 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    I agree 100 o/o. With the prediction.

  6. lynn

    May 2, 2014 at 7:37 am

    As he should.

  7. Dan Kitzler

    May 2, 2014 at 7:13 am

    Obama has a reputation for being a liar.

  8. shedrick brown

    May 1, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    In the bible it says man shall inherit every seed(including marijuana). Government wants to take from us what God gave us.

  9. Bren Ouellette

    May 1, 2014 at 11:56 am

    I am a medical marijuana patient in Vermont and cost is an issue. I am disabled and I have several issues in why I do. My feeling is, the states can legalize it anyway they want but if the government will not be on board it moot to those patients it can help but cannot afford it. There are so many medical issues marijuana can help with and I’m living it. My doctor prescribed the Meritol pill for a stomach condition (my stomach empties very slow and i am sick all the time if I eat anything and the only drug available for the condition…I am alergic too. My vitemin levels have dropped way down and I’ve dropped 100lbs since June of last year), but medicaid ^ medicare will not cover it. I believe if I hold a legal Marijuana license that I should be able to have the pill as well. I smoke so I can eat because of me being sick to my stomach constantly. It helps alot with the sick feeling so i can eat a little. I can’t always afford the marijuana so I go days where I can’t eat and puke. Tell its fair to legalize it then nothing backs it up is really annoying and I’m sure I am not the only person who feels this way.

  10. Laura Walker

    May 1, 2014 at 11:29 am

    I am so curious about how a schedule III, or even a schedule II change at the federal level will be implemented. These still require a prescription, unlike alcohol, so it won’t change the illegality of possession for the people who are targeted now. Is it just to make it easier for research purposes? For States to implement medical Marijuana laws? I honestly hope that change is imminent, but it will have to be more than just a schedule change for any meaningful change to occur.

    • victoria dawson khan

      May 2, 2014 at 9:43 am

      I agree with Laura Walker, its a step in the right direction for certain.. but needs to go a step or two further..

      • Justin Michels

        May 3, 2014 at 9:18 am

        Once it is off schedule I, there is no longer a ‘justifiable’ reason to deny our right to use ganja for religious purposes and/or grow it for our own consumption. The real victory is not rescheduling itself, but this is a huge step toward sane policy beyond the research lab!

        • Jeremy

          May 7, 2014 at 7:11 pm

          I am a cannabis activist. My dream is to become a grower. I have been curious to what rescheduling would mean if they did. It doesn’t belong in schedule II or III. It really doesn’t belong on the schedule at all in my opinion. You mentioned though if they do reschedule it, that means we will be allowed to grow it. As much as I love this idea, I am doubting that. We still live in a country that is ran by corporations. This isn’t a democrat or republican thing, this is an American thing. It’s sad, but it’s truth. Hell, Monsanto announced the other day they there are getting in the cannabis game in Uruguay (which makes me sick to my stomach) If it is rescheduled here, I have no doubt it will be the government who grows it, or contracts big companies out to do so. If rescheduling it meant we would be allowed to grow our own medicine, then people would have been growing opium here a long time ago.

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