Above Photo: Courtesy of Allie Beckett.
The nation’s largest military veterans organization is pushing President-elect Donald Trump to reschedule marijuana after he takes office early next year.
Top officials from the American Legion, which passed a resolution endorsing the reclassification of cannabis under federal law earlier this year, sat down with Trump’s transition team last week to discuss key priorities for the more than 2 million military veterans the organization represents, including marijuana policy reform.
The group “initiated a call-to-action on fairly new Legion priorities – support of research related to the impacts of medical marijuana and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s reclassification of cannabis from a Schedule I drug to Schedule III,” according to a summary of the meeting on the American Legion’s website. “Reclassification of the drug would allow easier access to pure strains of the substance to cultivate quantifiable research and statistics regarding marijuana’s medical benefits.”
Louis Celli, national director of the Legion’s veterans affairs and rehabilitation division, told Marijuana.com that the Trump officials at the meeting were somewhat guarded in giving feedback on specific issues during the listening session, but that when cannabis’s potential to help heal military veterans war wounds came up, “there was an immediate change in the room.”
“All shuffling stopped, people stopped looking down at their notes, and instantly all eyes were on [Legion Executive Director] Verna Jones and everyone was transfixed and intently hanging on her every word,” Celli said. “I can’t speak for how the transition team felt, but there seemed to be a small shock that snapped the room to attention. No read on how the information was received, but I think they were a little caught off guard and didn’t expect such a progressive statement from such a traditional and conservative organization.”
There were also representatives of more than 30 other veterans service organizations at the meeting.
Separately, marijuana policy reformers received another sign this week that cannabis rescheduling under Trump is not out of the question. Legalization activist Jim O’Neill was floated in the media as possible pick to lead the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an agency which plays a key role in determinations to reclassify drugs under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana policies. But reformers are concerned that he has already named several ardent cannabis law reform opponents to his Cabinet and other key administration posts.
For example, he selected U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who recently said “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” to be attorney general. He picked Congressman Tom Price of Georgia, who has regularly voted against medical cannabis amendments, to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. And this week Trump signaled that Gen. John Kelly, another critic of legalization, would head the Department of Homeland Security. He also tapped Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who led a federal lawsuit against neighboring Colorado’s marijuana law, as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
But with O’Neill at FDA and continued pressure from a large, respected organization like the American Legion, reformers have some hope that the Trump administration could seriously consider rescheduling cannabis.
In August, the DEA rejected long-pending petitions to reclassify marijuana from its current status as a Schedule I drug. That category is supposed to be reserved for substances with no medical value.
What Would Rescheduling Do?
Moving marijuana out of Schedule I — or, removing it from the CSA altogether, like alcohol and tobacco — would have a number of effects.
Reclassification to Schedule III or lower, as the American Legion is pushing for, would protect federal employees who use marijuana from a Reagan-era executive order that defines illegal drugs as Schedule I or II substances.
Additionally, only drugs under Schedules I and II are affected by the tax provision known as “280E,” which disallows state-legal businesses from deducting normal operational expenses from their federal taxes.
Because current laws and regulations prevent the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy from fairly evaluating Schedule I drugs, reclassification would allow the government to examine and communicate about marijuana in a way that prioritizes science instead of an outdated drug war mindset.
Rescheduling would also make scientific research easier. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, testified before the Senate that marijuana’s Schedule I status means there are “additional steps” that scientists wishing to study it must take and that reclassification would expand opportunities for research.
Moving cannabis out of Schedule I would also put an end to threats that newspapers who mail publications containing marijuana advertisements are facing from the U.S. Postal Service, since the federal law that agency cites to justify its actions only applies to Schedule I drugs.
Finally, removing marijuana from Schedule I and officially recognizing that the drug has medical value would send a strong message to state lawmakers and international leaders that the federal government is beginning to address decades of mistakes on marijuana policy, and that they should too.
But rescheduling alone would not remove the criminal penalties that still put people abiding by state marijuana laws at risk of federal prosecution and prison sentences. Other statutes would have to be amended to accomplish that.