Just days after Malia Obama was caught on camera allegedly smoking marijuana, the DEA announced that it would be rejecting yet another petition to reschedule the substance from Schedule I of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.
The decision to continue classifying cannabis in the same category as heroin is problematic — not only because research suggests that the substance does not meet the criteria of its classification — but also because marijuana-related arrests have a significant impact on the lives and futures of young Americans, something Malia was lucky enough to avoid.
“To its credit, the Obama administration has dialed back its earlier massive crackdowns on medical marijuana dispensaries and has shown little interest in interfering with states that allow for recreational use,” Anthony L. Fisher wrote for Reason. “But it remains disappointing that President Obama — who has written extensively about his own drug experimentation yet was able to attend elite universities and ascend to the highest ladder of public office only by the grace of not being arrested for a drug crime as a young man — continues to do nothing to end the immoral policy of marijuana prohibition.”
While the president cannot legalize marijuana himself, he could convince the Attorney General to do so. As stated in the Controlled Substance Act, the Attorney General can "remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule."
As a result of this lack of action, thousands of people continue to be arrested on marijuana charges; an estimated 700,000 were arrested in 2014 alone, with 88 percent of them being simple possession charges. For young people, this means dealing with having a criminal record for the rest of their lives, which can affect their ability to get student loans, jobs, and housing — a high price to pay for a harmless mistake made during their adolescence.
In its decision, however, the DEA did state that it will be “adopting policy changes designed to expand the production of research-grade cannabis for FDA-approved clinical protocols.” While expanding clinical investigations could be a step towards eventual decriminalization, many will still suffer the consequences of misdemeanor drug convictions in the meantime.
“For now, the president should be happy that his daughter — if she indeed was enjoying some totally ‘normal’ soft drug experimentation — wasn't arrested at Lollapalooza,” Fisher added. “For a ‘normal’ young person, such a stain on one's criminal record is just the kind of thing that could put something like an early admission invitation to attend Harvard at risk.”