Those who hoped that President Obama’s interview with Rolling Stone might show some flexibility on DC marijuana were disappointed, again. Obama claimed that he couldn’t “ignore a federal law that’s on the books.” So much for change.
With marijuana enforcement falling hardest on poor and minority kids, you would think that Obama would take some interest in not saddling these young people with permanent criminal records. No such luck.
The marijuana decriminalization movement is being led by medical marijuana advocates, who are looking for safe and effective ways to relieve pain and promote appetite in those with cancer, HIV/AIDS and other serious illnesses. With improving health care an Obama priority, you would think he would respect patient choice. Think again.
What can Obama do even when there is a “law on the books” criminalizing marijuana?
First, he can reclassify marijuana from a “Schedule I” drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the most tightly restricted category reserved for drugs which have “no currently accepted medical use.” The usefulness of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions have been firmly established.
Second, in the 16 states where possession of marijuana is a civil offense – not a criminal act – he can instruct the DEA to take defendants to state court for processing.
Third, he can offer diversion, and not oppose expungement, in federal court possession of marijuana cases.
If Obama wanted to, positive steps could be taken, even if there is a “law on the books” – if only he would try.