In a far-reaching interview in the New Yorker President Obama expressed real concern about the racial disparity in marijuana arrests as well as the long sentences. He also said that it is “important” for the legalization experiments in Washington State and Colorado to go forward.
The shift in rhetoric is welcome but actions are what matter. If Obama is serious, Congress and the Constitution have vested the Presidency with far reaching powers to advance these issues.
- Pardons and Clemency – If Obama thinks long marijuana sentences are unfair he can pardon or commute some federal marijuana offenders. It would not just end those injustices but he could do it in a public way to send a message about the need for federal reform. So far Obama record on pardons has been pathetic.
- Allow marijuana business bank – Federal agencies have threatened banks that held accounts with marijuana businesses. This has made it needlessly difficult and dangerous for them to operate. Forcing companies to be all-cash businesses increases the risk of robbery and possibility of crimes like tax evasion. Making it clear that banks will not get in trouble for taking accounts from state legal marijuana businesses would make the industry safer and easier to audit.
- Rescheduling marijuana – Currently marijuana is schedule I under federal law, which classifies it as having no legal medical use, but the executive branch was given the power to change that. His administration could move it to a lower schedule without the need of Congressional approval. So far his administration have actively fought in court any attempt to force it to address the issue.
- Promise pardons for legal marijuana business – The Department of Justice has recently put out a memo claiming they will take a hands-off approach toward states’ marijuana laws but federal agents didn’t live up to a previous Obama era memo on medical marijuana. Promising to pardon anyone who perfectly follows state law if they are arrested by federal authorities would give an extra level of assurance and make it clear to local agents there is nothing to gain by going rogue.
- End the war on marijuana research – The federal government has actively hampered attempts to do research on marijuana. The NIDA has a monopoly over the legal supply of marijuana for government approved research. It has gone so far as to even deny access to a study approved by the FDA to research treatments for PTSD. Obama could reform the NIDA and take away their monopoly on the marijuana supply.
- Change the culture in federal law enforcement – The President is responsible for filling every important position the government. He can change the culture by making sure to appoint individuals who have opinions that reflect the majority of the American public on marijuana reform to relevant open positions at the FBI, ATF, U.S Attorney, etc…
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy in America