Political Analysis: Clinton’s Switch on Marijuana Classification

Those people who continue to believe that marijuana will not play a major role in the next presidential election have just gotten another indication that legalization in the states as well as the federal attention on Capitol Hill is moving mountains at the presidential candidate level right now.

Three days after presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act” of 2015,” the grand dame of Democratic presidential politics finally changed her position on one of the most pressing political issues in America. This comes after more than a quarter of a century of demurring, defusing and refusing to acknowledge that marijuana has even legitimate medical purposes.

On Nov. 7, 2015, at a political event in South Carolina, Clinton finally concurred that marijuana should be rescheduled from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug. Sanders’ bill currently says that marijuana should be completely declassified.

Clinton told the press at a campaign stop in Orangeburg that, “I want to move from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 so researchers can research what’s the best way to use it, dosage, how does it work with other medications.” Clinton also added, “What I do want is for us to support research into medical marijuana because a lot more states have passed medical marijuana than have legalized marijuana … so we have got two different experiences or even experiments going on right now.”

Clinton’s definition of both “research” and “medical knowledge” about cannabis have long been at least inaccurate; however, this may finally be the year that she is called to task. The reason that more research, at least in the continental United States, has not been conducted is because of the current Schedule I designation of the drug at the federal level. That said, this has not stopped federal American money channeled through the National Institutes of Health, to go to cannabis research, most notably to Dr. Raphael Mechoulam in Israel.

These days, it is getting harder and harder to find U.S. government statements and findings that deny the medical efficacy of the drug. According to a recent NORML review of recent FDA-approved clinical trials that assess the safety and therapeutic efficacy of cannabis, even the FDA has found, “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”

It is entirely possible that the entire arc of the marijuana debate may be finally put to bed during this political season. It has long been a sticky wicket for candidates and presidents alike since the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in the early 1970s. During the last Clinton administration in the 1990s, the administration was also directly involved in prosecuting doctors who tried to prescribe the drug to their patients, starting in California. The political blowback from this failed policy, which disproportionately affected the gay male community after 1996, has been credited as one reason that the Democrats lost the election in 2000.

Last summer, both Clinton and the national Democratic Party were also caught in a crossfire of controversy because of a lack of messaging on the issue, as was the Florida Democratic Party, then in the middle of a state campaign to legalize medical use.

Going into the next election, however, it is clear on the Democratic and progressive side of the ledger, that Democrats are unlikely to make the same mistake.

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