North Coast Representative Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) and 17 other members of Congress have a message for President Barack Obama: It's time to get real and stop classifying marijuana as equal to heroin and more harmful than methamphetamine or cocaine.
In a letter sent to the White House on Wednesday, the signers referred to Obama's comments that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol in a recent New Yorker article and called on the first president to admit inhaling to “take action to help alleviate the harms to society caused by the federal Schedule I classification of marijuana.”
”Thank you for your continued thoughtfulness about this important issue,” the letter states. “We believe the current system wastes resources and destroys lives, in turn damaging families and communities. Taking action on this issue is long overdue.”
The letter writers also ask Obama to direct his administration officials to publicly reflect his views.
”Statements such as the one from DEA chief of operations James L. Capra that the legalization of marijuana at the state level is 'reckless and irresponsible' serve no purposes other than to inflame passions and misinform the public,” the letter states.
Washington and Colorado recently legalized marijuana for recreational use, and a similar measure is expected to go before California voters in November 2014. According to a recent Field Poll, the proposition stands a good chance at passing, with a clear majority of Golden State voters favoring the legalization of marijuana for the first time in 44 years.
Eureka Police Department Chief Andrew Mills said everyone is searching for solutions to a very complex subject.
”The main things I believe need to be addressed are the havoc being wreaked on the environment, the damage it brings to our cities in terms of illegal indoor grows and the crimes, such as home invasion robberies,” Mills said. “If these can be addressed, I believe it's a step in the right direction.”
The national spotlight on the environmental damage caused by large-scale, illicit marijuana grows has increased over the last year.
Huffman called a meeting of local stakeholders in August to discuss marijuana enforcement issues in Humboldt County, with a focus on the widespread destruction resulting from illegal operations in the region -- including clear-cuts, diverted streams and the dangerous poisons left behind.
At the time, Huffman and Sheriff Mike Downey seemed to point to legalization as the path forward.
Huffman also supports changes to federal sentencing guidelines to reflect the environmental and safety threats caused by marijuana growing operations that trespass on public forests and private land.
”Drug trafficking organizations ... are making forests and open spaces unsafe for working and recreation,” he wrote in a November letter to the U.S. Sentencing Committee, which establishes the federal guidelines. “We urge you to consider the significant impacts of drug cultivation operations on public and trespassed lands throughout the country, and add new emphasis to countering the environmental damages of drug production.”
Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace said the request to delist or reclassify marijuana “has been a long time coming.”
”Prohibition is an irrational way to deal with public health and safety concerns around marijuana use,” he said. “Prohibition has shown itself to be ineffective and counterproductive, encouraging criminal activity while doing nothing to reduce harm to our children, our communities and the environment. I hope the Obama administration will be receptive to this message, and will move the country toward a more rational marijuana policy.”
Staff writers Jillian Singh and Melissa Simon contributed to the report.
Text of the letter:
Dear Mr. President,
We were encouraged by your recent comments in your interview with David Remnick in the January 27, 2014 issue of the New Yorker, about the shifting public opinion on the legalization of marijuana. We request that you take action to help alleviate the harms to society caused by the federal Schedule I classification of marijuana.
Lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws. Nearly two-thirds of a million people every year are arrested for marijuana possession. We spend billions every year enforcing marijuana laws, which disproportionately impact minorities. According to the ACLU, black Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite comparable marijuana usage rates.
You said that you don't believe marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol: a fully legalized substance, and believe it to be less dangerous “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.” This is true. Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, the strictest classification, along with heroin and LSD. This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs. This makes no sense.
Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system. Schedule I recognizes no medical use, disregarding both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana. A Schedule I or II classification also means that marijuana businesses in states where adult or medical use are legal cannot deduct business expenses from their taxes or take tax credits due to Section 280E of the federal tax code.
We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II. Furthermore, one would hope that that your Administration officials publicly reflect your views on this matter. Statements such as the one from DEA chief of operations James L. Capra that the legalization of marijuana at the state level is “reckless and irresponsible” serve no purposes other than to inflame passions and misinform the public.
Thank you for your continued thoughtfulness about this important issue. We believe the current system wastes resources and destroys lives, in turn damaging families and communities. Taking action on this issue is long overdue.
At a glance: The signers
The group includes: Representatives Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Sam Farr of California, Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona, Mike Honda of California, Barbara Lee of California, Zoe Lofgren of California, Alan Lowentha of California, James P. McGovern of Massachusetts, James P. Moran of Virginia, Beto O'Rourke of Texas, Jared Polis of Colorado, Mike Quigley of Illinois, Dana Rohrabacher of California, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Eric Swalwell of California, and Peter Welch of Vermont.
At a glance: Federal drug schedule
Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.
Schedule I drugs include: heroin, LSD, marijuana , ecstasy, methaqualone, and peyote.
Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, less abuse potential than Schedule I drugs, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous. Some examples of Schedule II drugs include: cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin).
Source: Drug Enforcement Administration