Obama Administration Doesn't Need Congress to Loosen Marijuana Restrictions

Attorney General Eric Holder is trying to walk an increasingly fraught middle ground on cannabis policy. Attention has turned to the federal government on the issue of marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin and LSD, among many others. Schedule I drugs are deemed to be harmful and have no medical benefit. With 20 states plus Washington D.C. having a medical marijuana law on the books, and Maryland set to be the 17th state to decriminalize pot, it’s clear that many state legislatures disagree. Polls have found up to 81% national support for medical cannabis.

Holder said he’d be “more than glad to work with Congress,” on rescheduling cannabis at a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, but “work with Congress” is an important qualifier. This shows that Holder is not willing to take unilateral action.

That’s a shame, because Holder and Obama do not need Congress to reschedule marijuana. The Department of Justice has the authority to do so on its own.

At a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) grilled Holder on his inaction with regards to cannabis.

“Why won’t the administration act with the pen and the phone to help people out by taking this out of schedule I so it can be studied?” Cohen asked. “Because I think we’re all in favor of research.”

Holder deflected this and other swings from Cohen with non-answers about how he believes that he and his department “have acted in a way that is appropriate.”

Cohen has long argued that the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug makes it difficult for anyone to take U.S. drug policy seriously, noting to Holder that it “breeds contempt for our laws.”

“Schedule I says it has no medical benefit,” Cohen said. “Well, that’s just fallacious, and the fact that it says a high likelihood of abuse – it’s nothing like heroin, that’s absurd.”

Though Cohen speaks for a strong majority of Americans, and Holder may agree with him, for now the Attorney General remains intractable on what should be a common sense reform. While Holder may be “glad to work” with Congress, he surely knows that this is quite unlikely to happen while he is still Attorney General. His lack of unilateral action on what should be a no-brainer policy means that for now, cannabis will remain a Schedule I drug.

Watch video of the exchange between Cohen and Holder, below:

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