Pubdate: Sat, 03 Sep 2016
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Orange County Register
Author: Sal Rodriguez


On August 11, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced its 
rejection of petitions to reschedule marijuana, an unsurprising, but 
disappointing, decision.

Currently designated a Schedule I substance under the federal 
Controlled Substances Act, the prohibition of marijuana has long been 
a central component of the vast web of federal, state and local 
government entities devoted to combating (certain) drug use.

Alongside drugs like heroin and LSD, marijuana is in the most 
restrictive category of federal drug regulations. Officially, the DEA 
rejected calls to reschedule marijuana "because it does not meet the 
criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the 
United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under 
medical supervision and it has a high potential for abuse."

This determination has long been controversial, given the mounting 
evidence that marijuana use does provide medicinal benefits to at 
least some people and that marijuana use is certainly safe relative 
to many pharmaceutical drugs. According to the Marijuana Policy 
Project, over 2 million Americans are using medical marijuana in 
states that have legalized it for that purpose.

"Keeping marijuana in Schedule I shows that the DEA continues to 
ignore research, and places politics above science," Michael Collins, 
deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, 
said in a statement following the decision. "In reality, marijuana 
should be descheduled and states should be allowed to set their own policies."

That latter point is critical. There's an extent to which advocates 
should continue to push for expanded research of the medicinal 
benefits of marijuana, but restricting the debate and discussion to 
the terms and conditions of the CSA is needlessly limiting.

The simple concepts of personal freedom and personal responsibility 
have been lost in drug policy. In a country where people are free to 
consume alcohol and tobacco, drugs without medical uses and with a 
high potential for abuse, using the force of government to punish 
individuals from ingesting substances like marijuana has always been peculiar.

Earlier this year, Dan Baum, writing in Harpers Magazine, presented 
an important insight into the thinking that gave rise to modern 
federal drug control policy. John Ehrlichman, a key aide to President 
Richard Nixon, told Baum that the rationale for the "war on drugs" 
was always political in nature.

"We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or 
black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with 
marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both 
heavily, we could disrupt those communities," Ehrlichman told Baum.

Marijuana has long been the focus of the war on (some) drugs, which, 
over 40 years and $1 trillion later, is no closer to eradicating drug 
use than when it began. In 2014, there were more than 700,000 
marijuana arrests, mostly for possession. Though down from the peak 
of 873,000 arrests in 2007, it's difficult to see the public safety 
benefit of arresting that many people for what is at most a moral 
offense, depending on your perspective.

Naturally, entities with a lot to lose like the DEA shouldn't be 
expected to voluntarily cede control over what has, in a sense, been 
a cash crop for them. At this point, the focus shouldn't necessarily 
be on rescheduling marijuana so much as descheduling it and allowing 
the states to decide for themselves how to deal with marijuana.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed descheduling, and perhaps support 
can be mustered for that. In the long-term, it's also worth 
considering whether it's necessary for the federal government to be 
involved in protecting Americans from themselves, and revisiting the 
value of the CSA.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom