Can Eric Holder reschedule marijuana, and why is he ducking the issue?

By Oscar Pascual |

Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder was asked earlier this month at his National Press Club speech whether the president should consider reclassifying marijuana in his remaining years in office. Here’s what he had to say:

“I think that Congress ultimately has to do that (reclassify marijuana). This is … a topic that ultimately, I think ought to be engaged in by our nation, informed by the experiences that we see in Colorado, in Washington. There is, I think, a legitimate debate to be had on both sides of that question – where marijuana ought to be in terms of its scheduling.”

It sounds like Holder just threw Congress under the bus, which Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen didn’t take lightly.

“I am concerned, however, about your comments regarding the classification of marijuana,” responded Cohen in a letter to Holder. “As you know, you already have the statutory authority to reclassify marijuana.”

So who’s right?

According to some facts from the Washington Post, the attorney general can, under federal law, move to add, reschedule, or remove drugs on his own, at the request of the health and human services or in response to a public petition. But before doing so, the law also requires the attorney general to gather data from scientific and medical evaluations from the HHS secretary.

That’s where it gets tricky. Since marijuana is still labeled a Schedule I drug, researchers aren’t legally allowed to obtain federal funding to study it. While studies have been done and continue to take place, experts say that the efforts are at a smaller scale than needed.

Therein lies the rub. As long as marijuana is a Schedule I drug, it’s pretty much illegal to prove that it isn’t.

It’s probably the reason why Holder passed the buck to Congress, who can pass laws to change the rescheduling of drugs much easier than the bureaucratic muck Holder has to work though.

So, in essence, both Holder and Cohen are right.

Sure, Holder could go through all the trouble of getting several federal agencies to finally play nice with each other, but that’s just way too much work for a guy who doesn’t even want to be there in the first place.

So why not look to Congress instead, who seems like they already have a few members on board for legalization.

Photo via Flickr/departmentofed