The Cannabis Column
The Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) recently filed suit in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia challenging the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) refusal to reschedule cannabis. The CRC originally filed a petition to have marijuana removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and regulated like other substances with accepted medical use in the United States in 2002. After several years of review, and the threat of legal action, the DEA formally rejected the petition in 2011.
Americans for Safe Access (ASA) it taking a leading role in the appeal and other members of the CRC include Patients Out of Time, NORML, California NORML, the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, New Mexicans for Compassionate Use, several medical cannabis patients, and HIGH TIMES.
The DEA’s refusal to reschedule marijuana in the face of considerable scientific, medical, and political evidence of its medical use is part of a larger and more significant problem with marijuana policy in the United States. People generally refer to this problem as prohibition, but that’s not it. The problem is that the federal government has simply run out of ideas regarding what to do about marijuana use in the United States.
It’s obvious that marijuana policy in the United States is a failure. Marijuana use remains widespread. Marijuana is more valuable than ever. More people cultivate marijuana in the United States than ever before. Marijuana is widely available. Every online news cycle has stories about marijuana, about political activity, about use, about research, about someone getting arrested, about some large seizure… marijuana is always in the news. It’s not going away, that much is obvious. So much for drug control.
There are plenty of new ideas about marijuana policy in the news as well. Medical marijuana laws are spreading throughout the country, as are attempts not only to decriminalize marijuana but to legalize it in various jurisdictions as well. And, while not getting as much publicity, the movement to introduce industrial hemp in the United States is also alive, well, and thriving.
Where do the ideas come from? Not from out leaders. Not from the leaders of our country, and frankly not from the leaders of the reform movement. The ideas driving marijuana law reform come from local level activists. Proposition 215 in California, the Rescheduling effort, the initiative to legalize marijuana in Washington state – make a list of the innovative approaches to marijuana policy in the US and it’s clear where the initiative comes from.
These comments are not intended as a critique of national reform groups; indeed they should be commended for the stalwart and dedicated support they provide to local efforts. The manifest strategy of the most prominent reform organizations has been to nurture, train, fund, and advance local efforts for reform. The marijuana movement is demonstrating the great strengths of our federal political system, in which new ideas are adopted and tried out at the local level, a way of demonstrating their ability and capacity to address crucial national problems. Profound reform is built incrementally, in small but steady advances, in ways that promote steady growth in public support at the grass-roots level.
But what is strikingly apparent while this marvelous process of reform unfolds is the absolute incapacity of our national political leaders to address this longstanding and pressing issue. Opponents of marijuana reform have no proposals of their own. They have no suggestions on how to regulate and control marijuana, how to reduce its availability to teenagers, and how to address the social and fiscal costs of marijuana use. They have no new ideas about reducing the drain of marijuana prohibition on the economy, no willingness nor ability to formulate policy proposals to address the challenges of marijuana’s continued widespread use in the United States.
National political leaders do have a policy preference. They call it prohibition, and they naively expect that pharmacological drugs will be developed that will eliminate the need for tolerating legal medical cannabis access in some states. But this is not an idea; it’s a pretext to avoid debate. It’s as if prohibition has worked out so well over the last several decades there’s no need to think about alternatives.
Advocates of marijuana law reform are winning the war of ideas, in part because they have innovative proposals for marijuana policy, and in part because their opponents don’t. The ideas for reforming marijuana laws come from the heartland of America, and this is to the advantage of those who support marijuana’s legalization.
Jon Gettman is a long time contributor to HIGH TIMES. A former National Director of NORML, Jon has a Ph.D. in public policy and regional economic development and consults with attorneys, advocates, and non-profits on cannabis related research and public policy issues. On October 8, 2002, along with a coalition of organizations, he filed a new petition to have cannabis rescheduled under federal law. This column will track that petition's progress.