When it comes to how he has handled the federal/state conflict regarding medical marijuana and he will handle now that two states have adopted full legalization, President Obama has a habit of lying to try to shift responsibility on to Congress. Once again, in an interview with Barbara Walters that will air this evening, Obama heavily implied that he would need Congress to change marijuana’s legal status. From ABC News:
Obama told Walters he does not – “at this point” – support widespread legalization of marijuana. But he cited shifting public opinion and limited government resources as reasons to find a middle ground on punishing use of the drug.
“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?”
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.
Of course there are many political and regulator reasons why it would be better for Congress to adopted a new law tailored to address the issue, but the point is Obama isn’t helplessly constrained by federal law on this matter like he pretends to be. The federal law currently gives Obama incredibly wide latitude on this issue, including the ability to unilaterally change marijuana’s legal status.