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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Congress To Obama: End the War on Marijuana -- Now

Posted By on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 12:25 PM

It's in his hands -- literally
  • It's in his hands -- literally

The war on marijuana is over, if Barack Obama wants it.

In a letter sent directly to the White House today, 18 members of Congress, including Bay Area and California representatives, urged the president to use his executive power to end, or at least ease, the federal laws criminalizing marijuana.

"Lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws," according to the letter, signed by, among others, U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee, Sam Farr, Eric Swalwell and Mike Honda. They noted that more than 700,000 people are arrested annually for marijuana offenses at a cost of billions of dollars.

Can Obama do this by fiat? Yes, he can, according to some marijuana advocates.

The DEA, which determines which drugs are good and which are bad, is under the purview of the Justice Department. And the man who runs the Justice Department, Attorney General Eric Holder, has a boss whose name is Barack Obama.

And remember: this is the "I'll do it myself" Obama who used his State of the Union address to hit home the message that he'll seize the day if Congress won't. So will he?

The congressional representatives who signed the letter are familiar by those advocating an end to the drug war. There's Rep. Dana "Drone" Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach, Oregon's Earl Blumenauer, who took the lead on the letter, and Colorado's Jared Polis. There are also representatives from Texas and Virginia on the list, which goes to show how deeply the positive polling on marijuana is resonating with politicos.

The letter has a very valid point: it was Obama himself who told The New Yorker's David Remnick that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol. Therefore, it would stand to reason that Washington policy over which Obama has dominion should not classify marijuana as more dangerous than, say, methamphetamine and cocaine.

Which is exactly what the DEA claims and continues to claim to this day by classifying pot as a Schedule I controlled substance, and rejecting all petitions demanding they come to grips with reality and put weed in a different category.

"This makes no sense," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "Taking action on this issue is long overdue."

There has been contention in the past over whether or not it is within Obama's executive powers to do this, but if the last 14 have demonstrated anything, it is that the president can pretty much do as he pleases, when he pleases.

In the past, Obama has said he can't act, claiming that the Controlled Substances Act was an act of Congress and needs to be amended by Congress. However, government experts note that Obama could, at any time, instruct Holder to tell the DEA to reclassify the drug.

This seems logical/ The DEA chief, as well as the attorney general, serve at the pleasure of the president, and if an attorney general were to go rogue on other issues, the president would be within his powers to remove him or her.

Don't forget, polling on weed is so positive that politicians are at last reconsidering their stances for fear of retribution at the ballot box. Even the most safely gerrymandered members of Congress know that citizens are sick of the war on drugs and are savvy to the fact that harsh weed laws are nonsense.

So will Obama do it himself? Seems unlikely, but this is one of the strongest pushes from Congress on the issue yet.

Notable absences from the list: San Francisco's own House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who with 24 medical cannabis dispensaries in her district should have more on this to say than most, and anyone from Los Angeles proper.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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