Attorney General Eric Holder announced his resignation in late September. After six years at the head of the Justice Department, he’s moving on. But he’s leaving on a hopeful note, at least when it comes to marijuana.
Holder said in an interview that he’s open to the rescheduling of cannabis as a schedule 1 drug. That schedule, created by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, includes heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and peyote, all listed as drugs that are dangerous, have no medical uses, and cause addiction.
None of those things apply to weed, but the drug has been on schedule 1 since the 1970s. Until very recently, it seemed unthinkable that that might someday change. Holder’s remarks may signal that someday is coming soon.
In an interview with Katie Couric, who runs the global news division at Yahoo!, Holder said Americans should ask whether pot’s classification makes sense – and use science as their guide.
“It’s certainly a question we need to ask ourselves, whether or not marijuana is as serious a drug as heroin, especially given what we’ve seen recently with regard to heroin — the progression of people, from using opioids to heroin use, the spread and the destruction that heroin has perpetrated all around our country,” Holder said. “And to see how, by contrast, what the impact is of marijuana use. “
That could be joyful news to cannabis supporters. Marijuana’s inclusion on schedule 1 is the biggest impediment to legalizing weed at the federal level, and if it falls, criminal penalties for simple possession are likely to follow.
Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority industry group, said Holder’s endorsement of science is a good sign.
“It’s refreshing to hear these remarks from the attorney general, especially since the science couldn’t be any clearer that marijuana doesn’t meet the criteria for being classified as a schedule I substance,” Angell said. “Numerous studies confirm marijuana’s medical value, and if the administration is serious about taking an objective look at this issue, rescheduling is very achievable by the time this president leaves office. They can do this administratively without any further action from Congress.”
That may not be likely, however. Holder said rescheduling is up to Congress, even though he holds the legal power to change the schedules himself.
Drug schedules are maintained by the DEA, and Holder could tell the agency to move cannabis to a lower schedule. He can’t change the federal statutes that actually make weed illegal, but rescheduling would be a huge first step. It could have the effect of decriminalizing the drug, even without action from Congress.
But the Obama administration has punted on this issue before, and it doesn’t appear likely that position is going to change.
“That is something for Congress to decide,” Holder said. “I think we’ve taken a look at the experiments that are going on in Colorado and Washington, and we’re going to see what happens there, and that’ll help inform us as to what we want to do on the federal level.”