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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!

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