Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and 17 fellow congressional members sent a letter to President Obama calling upon the president to have the Drug Enforcement Administration change marijuana’s categorization.
The letter illustrated the nonsensical nature of listing marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic, a classification reserved for substances deemed as having no medical use with a high potential for abuse. As decades of marijuana research shows, marijuana’s current classification is wrong. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and ecstasy. Cocaine and methamphetamine are listed as Schedule II narcotics, yet these substances are far more dangerous.
These congressional members want Obama to push U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder into directing the U.S. Department of Justice to rank marijuana at least as a Schedule III drug, where it would be defined as having “a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.”
One congressional member who signed the letter was Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). He and Rep. Blumenauer recently questioned deputy drug czar Michael Botticelli, who dodged straightforward questions regarding during a Government Oversight Reform Committee hearing about the “dangers” of marijuana.
Botticelli was unable to candidly answer the representatives’ questions about marijuana’s death rate: there is no death rate. This is possibly because his answers could be considered as lending support to marijuana, which the Office of National Drug Control Policy is prohibited from doing.
The letter also noted the excruciatingly absurd amount of money that the federal government spends on marijuana-law enforcement. A study by Harvard lecturer Jeffrey Miron showed that the country loses out on almost $20 billion every year because of marijuana prohibition. Law enforcement itself costs about $8.7 billion, and that same amount could be generated annually from taxes placed on legal marijuana.
The letter points out the large racial disparity among marijuana arrests in America. The rate of marijuana use among blacks and whites is very similar. However, the American Civil Liberties Union found that blacks are four times more likely to get arrested for marijuana than whites. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2011 Uniform Crime Report showed that 750,000 people are arrested for marijuana each year, one arrest every 42 seconds.
Botticelli’s inability to respond candidly at the hearing highlights the deep need for reform to the way conversations about marijuana occur in our legislative bodies. To address one of these issues, Rep. Cohen drafted the Unmuzzle the Drug Czar Act, which will change the current provision of the ONDCP Reauthorization Act of 1998 that bans drug czars from studying marijuana. During the hearing, Cohen told Botticelli that he “should be able to participate and set our drug policy straight. Your job should be to have a sane drug policy, not to be muzzled and handcuffed.”
With the bill’s passage, drug czars can answer honestly and say, “Yes, cocaine and methamphetamines are vastly more dangerous than marijuana,” and “No, there has been no evidence that would indicate a potential for deadly marijuana overdoses nor have there been any documented marijuana overdoses.”
Because the ONDCP is barred from studying objective and empirical scientific evidence regarding marijuana, the agency has instead lended itself to emotionally fueled propaganda about drug use. This perpetuates the dishonest and flimsy foundation upon which the federal government has constructed its marijuana laws, which have created enforcement deficits, racial disparity in law enforcement, and a general misleading of the American public.
Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.