Former Attorney General: Marijuana Should Be Rescheduled

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has the unfortunate distinction of overseeing America's last great push to halt cannabis legalization. True, federal agents on his watch did not break down doors and arrest people for growing six plants — that'd be your eagle soaring, John Ashcroft — but Holder played a strong hand in messing with California's cannabis economy.

In 2010, with marijuanna legalization initiative Prop. 19 very much hanging in the balance, Holder's Justice Department unleashed an October surprise, informing the public that the DEA would “vigorously enforce” the federal Controlled Substances Act if a state legalized weed, and threatening California city officials with prison time if they regulated the plant (which Oakland was already doing). The following year, with seizures of cannabis plants and processed pot at record highs in California, Holder's four U.S. Attorneys in California began a crackdown on the state's cannabis dispensaries. Hundreds closed. 

The very next year, of course, it was all over. Colorado and Washington legalized, and the feds did next to nothing. Holder, who left office and returned to private practice, now sees the error of his ways. In an interview with PBS's Frontline, Holder said that marijuana should be removed from the federal government's list of the most evil substances. Eric Holder wants to reschedule cannabis, y'all.

[jump] Holder touched on drugs and sentencing reform in his interview. (Recall that under Holder and President Barack Obama, the insane and racist 100-to-1 sentencing rations for crack versus cocaine crimes were finally reduced.) Here's what he said on weed, according to PBS's transcript.

I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled. You know, we treat marijuana in the same way that we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate. So at a minimum, I think Congress needs to do that. Then I think we need to look at what happens in Colorado and what happens in Washington.

Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is a list of the drugs with the least medical value and highest potential for abuse. For “some” reason, marijuana is Schedule I, whereas cocaine and methamphetamine are Schedule II. This means marijuana cannot be researched, and it cannot be prescribed.

The intellectual dishonesty there is well noted by all but the most extreme drug warriors. Holder's statement is entirely reasonable — and entirely consistent with a growing number of members of Congress, who want to remove the federal penalties for the state-legal activities their constituents enjoy. As Portland, Oregon-based Congressman Earl Blumenauer put it: “We have lots [of cannabis dispensaries…. and the sun still comes up every day. The sky has not fallen.”

Obama's people have said that the president plans to do nothing on weed in his last 11 months on office, though some cannabis advocates hold out hope that the president will exercise executive action and remove marijuana from Schedule I. If he does, he'll find support from his old AG.

Of course, it would have been nicer if Holder talked like this while in office. 

“It’s nice to have Holder’s support for this sensible policy change, but it would have been a lot better if he’d exercised the power to get marijuana rescheduling done while he was still in office,” said Tom Angell, chairman of advocacy group The Marijuana Majority. “We know that Holder and President Obama are good friends, so I hope the former attorney general encourages his former boss and his successor Loretta Lynch to follow through during these final months of the administration and get the job done. There’s absolutely no reason marijuana should be in Schedule I, and it would be absurd to keep passing the buck to Congress when federal law clearly gives the administration the power to act.”

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