STEIN: We urge Obama to follow Colorado, Washington on marijuana policy

May 15, 2013

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to provide you with a report developed by the Green Shadow Cabinet Justice Branch: “The Voters of Colorado and Washington Provide a Path to End the War-on-Marijuana Quagmire.” Please click here to read it.

The report makes four specific recommendations that your administration can take, without any action by Congress, to recognize democracy in Washington and Colorado where the voters voted by 55% to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana; as well as in the 18 states and the District of Columbia where state law authorizes medical marijuana use.

This year is the 76th year of federal law making marijuana illegal.  As you noted last month when your administration released the National Drug Control Strategy, “we continue to see elevated rates of marijuana use among young people, likely driven by declines in perceptions of risk.” That one-sentence shows the failure marijuana prohibition: after decades of  a “war on marijuana” use is increasing and perceived risk declining. Indeed, according to federal research marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug; and adolescents use marijuana at higher levels than tobacco and find it easier to purchase than alcohol or prescription drugs.

The people are providing you a path out of the quagmire of the marijuana war. These new state laws still control marijuana distribution; they still discourage marijuana use and seek to protect public health and safety.  These shared goals are a basis for you to fulfill the mandate of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) which directs that the Attorney General ‘shall cooperate’ with the state and local governments on drugs. Section 873 of the CSA also provides a method for working with the states by entering into legally binding contractual agreements. These ‘Section 873 Contracts’ should be negotiated with each state to allow the laws to be implemented while allowing federal law to remain effective.

The specific recommendations are:

1. Respect the will of the voters in Washington and Colorado, as well as public opinion in the United States that wants the federal government to refrain from interfering with implementation of these states laws. The voters’ desire to legalize and regulate the use of marijuana is supported by medical science demonstrating that recreational marijuana is far less harmful to health than nicotine and alcohol, which are perfectly legal. Legalization is also supported by the fact that the biggest danger to health and safety from marijuana is the violence associated with the criminal drug culture. In other words, marijuana is a substance that is dangerous because it is illegal. It is not illegal because it’s dangerous.

2. Recognize that there is no conflict between federal law and these state laws. States should be allowed to control marijuana in ways that are most consistent with the democratically expressed views of their population. The lack of conflict is most obvious in regard to possession as well as Colorado’s law which allows personal cultivation and small sales which have been decriminalized. While there will continue to be federal laws making possession and small scale sales illegal, these are areas where the federal government currently does not enforce the law. Traditionally, these have been areas left to state law enforcement.  Non-federal enforcement of these laws should be made the explicit policy of the federal government in Section 873 Contracts with states to allow them to implement their laws.

3. With regard to regulation, licensing and taxation, these are alternative methods of control that are not in conflict with federal law. They should be treated as pilot projects, an opportunity to measure whether regulation and taxation are more effective in protecting public health and safety than the criminal law. The federal government should monitor the impact of these laws as a tool to create a more effective national marijuana policy rather than continue the failed war on marijuana. The Section 873 Contracts between the federal government and the states should be clear that the federal government will not enforce federal laws so long as actions are consistent with state law.  In return, the state governments should agree to take action to prevent diversion of marijuana to states that have not enacted reforms.

4. The Obama administration should reschedule marijuana to recognize its medical value. Marijuana is legal medicine in 18 states and the District of Columbia, accepted as medicine by many doctors, nurses, health care providers and health care organizations, prescribed under state law by thousands of doctors and used by tens of thousands of Americans as a medicine. Under the CSA if a drug has “an accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” it should be removed from Schedule I.  Based on the science the appropriate schedule for marijuana is Schedule III or lower.  Federal policy should treat medical marijuana as other medicines are treated and DOJ should enter into Section 873 Contracts with individual states to allow them to operate within state and federal law. Among the changes needed are applying the tax laws and banking laws as they are applied to other healthcare providers so medical marijuana providers can operate openly within the law. This is best for patients, health providers and respects the laws of states and local communities.

The people have presented your administration with an opportunity to begin to end a very destructive policy. More than 3 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges, approximately 90 people per hour, since you became president. This enforcement disproportionately impacts youth, African Americans and Latinos. Despite government research showing that marijuana use is equal among races, blacks and Latinos make up 85% of those arrested and are ten times more likely to be jailed. These racially unfair enforcement practices exacerbate racial divisions at a time when the United States should be putting racism behind us.

We urge you to seize the opportunity presented by the voters.  When Justice Brandeis described the states as “laboratories for democracy” he warned “To stay experimentation in things social and economic is a grave responsibility. Denial of the right to experiment may be fraught with serious consequences to the nation.” Please let democracy and federalism work and allow the people to follow the path to the end of marijuana prohibition.

Sincerely,

Jill Stein, MD
President, Green Shadow Cabinet
 

cc:
Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General
Kevin Zeese, Green Shadow Cabinet Attorney General
Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff
Ben Manski, Green Shadow Cabinet Chief of Staff
Gil Kerlikowske, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy
Cliff Thornton, Green Shadow Cabinet, Director of Drug Policy
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Margaret Flowers, Green Shadow Cabinet, Secretary of Health