Pubdate: Thu, 28 Apr 2016
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: Chem Tales
Copyright: 2016 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


A lame duck with nothing to lose but his legacy, Barack Obama is now 
in the peculiar position of being America's most cannabis-friendly 
president. He has earned this title passively: by doing nothing.

Obama did nothing when Washington and Colorado legalized recreational 
cannabis in 2012. He did nothing when Oregon and Alaska did the same 
in 2014. But in 2010, when recreational marijuana was legal nowhere 
and when drug agents seized a record number of marijuana plants, 
Obama's Justice Department also did next to nothing - vague threats 
of jail time and some threatening letters to property owners - which, 
at the time, was enough to help kill legalization in California and 
to slow down the growth of the state's weed industry for a couple of 
years. Never have a few pieces of certified mail had more effect.

Now, with venture capital sinking serious skin into the weed game and 
as much as a third of the country poised to vote on expansion of 
legalization and medical marijuana access, it's as if none of that 
happened. Now, there is increasing talk in some drug reform circles 
that Obama will break with tradition and do something on drug reform 
in his last months in office.

A few months ago, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson openly guessed 
Obama would remove cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled 
Substances Act, the country's inventory of the most highly addictive 
chemicals with no known medical use (two things that do not apply to 
cannabis), and put it into Schedule II. (For context: LSD, MDMA, and 
psilocybin are Schedule I; cocaine and methamphetamine are Schedule 
II. For more context: Johnson was recently CEO of a publicly traded 
cannabis company.)

That set off rumors Obama would make the move before a recent special 
session of the United Nations General Assembly on drugs. (He didn't.) 
Then in early April, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and seven other 
Senate Democrats received a letter from the DEA - which has in the 
past been sued, unsuccessfully, to reschedule cannabis - in which the 
agency said it could decide by July whether to reschedule. A tepid 
promise to possibly do something, like a slacker's vow to finally 
start a long-gestating novel, but it was pounced upon as a major step 
by some drug reform activists. When you're starving, even a table 
scrap can feel like a feast.

Most recently, gains from activists through smoking marijuana outside 
of Obama's house have fueled the speculation.

On April 2, about 100 people, including some of the activists from 
DCMJ - the crew behind Washington, D.C.'s legalization law - gathered 
outside the White House to get stoned as an act of protest. (Public 
smoking is still illegal in D.C., even though possession and 
cultivation are allowed.)

Poo-pooed by other drug reform activists as a gauche display, the 
demonstration earned Adam Eidinger, one of DCMJ's cofounders, a 
meeting on Monday with staffers in the White House.

But though the meeting was in the White House physically, it wasn't 
with White House staffers, but rather bureaucrats from the Office of 
National Drug Control Policy (who do not work under Obama). Nor was 
there any kind of negotiation - just half an hour where ONDCP 
staffers sat, listened, and took notes. (Other drug activists are 
also poo-pooing Eidinger for sharing details of meetings federal 
operatives prefer to keep "off-the-record.")

Even though the officials asked him no questions and promised him 
nothing - slowly, a pattern emerges - just a mere opportunity to be 
heard was a victory, Eidinger told me.

"By their body language, I could tell they were sincerely listening," 
he said. "I felt good after leaving the meeting - other meetings, 
I've walked out feeling horrible."

Good feelings and the hope that the pages of notes taken by the ONDCP 
staffers (neither of whom would give Eidinger a card) would not be 
immediately recycled are, for now, the lone results from the meet.

As for a likely next step? Though he has commuted some absurdly 
lengthy prison terms for nonviolent drug offenses, nobody believes 
Obama is suddenly calling his own meetings in the Oval Office to 
demand movement on drug reform.

Maybe this is better. Had Obama moved on scheduling - say if he moved 
cannabis to Schedule II - it would actually accomplish very little. 
It would still be illegal. You could still be fired from a job for 
using it, and banks would still be barred from dealing with cannabis 

"I don't want members of the public thinking [rescheduling] is a 
great victory and now marijuana is legal," said Michael Collins, 
deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National 
Affairs in Washington, D.C. "It does not affect the legality of 
marijuana or medical marijuana. ... It doesn't even really do that 
much for research."

Right now, it's still official White House policy to oppose marijuana 
legalization - another thing Schedule II wouldn't fix, even if the 
White House does nothing to enforce the policy.

For now, Eidinger is holding out for something - another meeting. And 
if he doesn't get it, or if the White House is slow in scheduling it, 
Eidinger has vowed another smoke-out: this one for May 20 - the 
birthday of original drug czar Harry Anslinger.

"I told them, 'We're going to expect a quick response,' " he said. " 
'Otherwise, the protests will continue.' "
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