This past election cycle was made more interesting, not so much for the main event between Pres. Barack Obama and presidential wannabe Mitt Romney but, by the ballot initiatives in Washington and Colorado that legalized the recreational use of marijuana in those states. There are eighteen states and the District of Columbia that have legalized its use for medical purposes and several others in the process of doing the same.
Currently under federal law, marijuana is classified under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I narcotic whose cultivation, distribution, possession and use are criminal acts. Besides the legal ramifications there are the social and economic impacts. Both states are looking into controlling marijuana sales and use the same as they do alcohol, which makes a great deal of sense. In a recent national poll taking by Quinnipaic found that across the entire country 51 percent of American voters think marijuana should be legal and 44 think it should be illegal.
In an interview with ABC News’ Barbara Walters, President Obama said that at this time he does not support legalization of marijuana but needed to find a middle ground on punishing use of the drug. He then punted to congress for the solution:
“This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law,” Obama said. “I head up the executive branch; we’re supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about, How do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal?”
Either the president is unaware or just trying to avoid the responsibility but blaming congress for not changing the law is false, as FDL‘s Jon Walker at its Just Say Now blog points out, the president has does not need congress to change marijuana status:
With 99 percent of federal laws this would be the case, but the Controlled Substance Act is fairly unique. The law explicitly gives the executive branch the right to change the legal status of any drug without Congressional involvement. If the administration, after examining the latest scientific research, determines that cannabis shouldn’t be Schedule I it has the power to move it to a lower schedule, which would make medical marijuana legal under federal law, or even unschedule it all together, which would effectively legalize it.
Several sitting governors in states with medical marijuana have petitioned Obama asking him to reschedule marijuana, and currently the Obama administration is actually fighting an effort in federal court to get the executive branch to provide a legitimate review of marijuana. There is no reason Obama can’t simply stop fighting the case and reschedule marijuana without needing to involve Congress.
MSNBC host Chris Hayes and his panel guests on his December 2 Up with Chris Hayes talked about how Washington and Colorado are dealing with the result of the ballot measures that legalized marijuana in those states: