“Everything around us is changing… laws, society, personal idiosyncrasies, as well as the realm that cannabis resides. Sometimes it is time to sit down the bowl and really focus on the issues… well then pick it back up because politics are stressful…”
Recently, as of February 12th, 18 bipartisan congressmen underneath the direction of Representative Earl Blumenauer, the Democratic candidate for the House from Oregon, submitted a succinct petition to Barack Obama and the White House calling for Obama to direct Attorney General Eric Holder to reschedule marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to a less severe and non-threatening level as per 21 U.S.C. § 811. At its current level, the federal sanction of cannabis as a Schedule I substance lumps marijuana into the same category as heroin, LSD, and other intense hallucinogenic, psychotropic drugs, which are not considered to have any recognized medicinal benefits, regardless of the myriad of favorable studies in a variety of states and nations. Essentially, rescheduling can occur through a variety of forms including the Attorney General, a unilateral executive decision, or legislation through Congress, and this letter attempts to cater to all of these methods.
In the letter, Blumenauer points out several key facts surrounding the cannabis debate stating, “Lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws.” In addition, Blumenauer resorts to statistical fact by saying the State spends “billions every year” to imprison “two-thirds of a million people…for marijuana” per year, inadvertently and “disproportionately impact[ing] minorities.” Furthermore, Blumenauer calls the classification “unjust and irrational” even from an economic point of view, as many marijuana-based businesses “cannot deduct business expenses from their takes or take tax credits due to Section 280E of the federal tax code.” Moreover, the epistle engages in an ad hominem approach against Obama by taking note of his own statements positing, “marijuana is [not] any more dangerous than alcohol: a fully legalized substance.” Finally, Blumenauer ends by fervently expressing, marijuana prohibition only serves “to inflame passions and misinform the public” for ulterior reasons.
While this diatribe about the terrors of marijuana prohibition highlights many of the key points; realistically, there is little possibility of this creating enough traction to actually cause any immediate change in my personal and honest opinion. First of all, there are only 18 representatives on this petition, which creates the first obstacle. Who has not signed a petition, including the bullshit listed on the White House Website, which has grown to several thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people only not to be answered? This letter will probably fall into that category, allowing bureaucracy to engulf the proposal. Nonetheless, every movement needs a foundation, so developing a foothold now using congressional support could be beneficial, leading to a larger cultural evolution later on down the line.
This fact brings me to another point, where, or shall I say when, is the beginning of this jurisprudential race concerning cannabis? While the correlation of this issue to federal versus state rights, culminating in the Civil War, cannot be denied; the discussion surrounding the federal rescheduling of cannabis seemingly started in the early 70s. After a recommendation by the Assistant Secretary of Health, Roger O. Egeberg, in 1970, proposing legislation to govern penalties surrounding marijuana offenses, Congress placed cannabis into the Schedule I category. However, this label was only supposed to be a temporary stance until the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, created through the Controlled Substances Act, could investigate the implications and repercussions associated with marijuana consumption. However, the Commission did not corroborate the stigmatization of marijuana purported by Egeberg.
During that point in time, the stereotypical pot smoker was considered to be “physically aggressive, lacking in self-control, irresponsible, mentally ill and, perhaps most alarming, criminally inclined and dangerous,” as indicated by propaganda films such as Reefer Madness. Instead of agreeing with this slander, the Commission concluded cannabis consumption simply led to “drowsiness, lethargy, timidity, and passivity.” Moreover, they found there to be “little proven danger of physical or psychological harm from the experimental or intermittent use of the natural preparations of cannabis.” Therefore, the Commission advised the prevention of “heavy use,” but in general they found “criminal law” to be “too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use.” Even though these conclusions by the Commission were exciting and spot on, the Nixon administration refused any recommendations made by the NCMDA in 1974, effectively eliminating any hope of their research being implemented and solidifying cannabis to the Schedule I category.
Certainly, a multitude of writers could point to pre-American cannabis restrictions, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, the feel-good 60s, or even something more recent, to talk about marijuana prohibition, but the aforementioned example about the rescheduling of cannabis marks a microcosmic moment when the government played a proactive part in ingraining the currently widespread stigma surrounding cannabis consumption in legal form. Maybe marijuana legalization could have been actualized by now if it was not for the inhibiting role the Nixon and Reagan administration played against the plant; but fortunately, people like Rep. Blumenauer and his other constituent congressmen are actively working against this atrocity. They are actually using their position, sway, and power to make a difference, something I advise everyone who sympathizes with this struggle to also do. While we may seem insignificant as individuals, our voice, when coupled together through shared will, can become a force greater than any other cultural element, social, economic, or even political. I encourage each of you to inform the people around you about this struggle, to write your representatives telling them to support Blumenauer, and to play an active part in decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana across the United States, and dare I say, the world.
Here is a copy of Blumenauer’s Petition for the Rescheduling of Cannabis.