Today, at a Denver event billed as a “marijuana legalization listening session,” Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley confirmed that, if elected, he would use his executive authority to reschedule cannabis as a Schedule 2 substance. He also indicated that he would be willing to push for full legalization after “two or three years” should hard data and trends prove that state-level legalization has a positive effect on communities.
The round table event, hosted by the pro-marijuana legalization specialty law firm Vicente Sederberg, was attended by Colorado lawmakers, cannabis business representatives, and anti-prohibition law enforcement groups, and meant to give the underdog candidate an opportunity to hear from those on the frontline of the state-level legalization effort.
After being briefed on the basics like Colorado’s seed-to-sale tracking system, the different systems for medical marijuana patients and adult retail customers, taxation, and the difficulties created by a multi-million dollar industry not having access to a banking system, the governor spoke to two military veterans who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes even though they risk losing their VA benefits. One, a former marine named Sean Carroll, told O’Malley that he–along with many of his fellow veterans–was able to break an opiate addiction through use of marijuana:
“For me, being critically wounded, on a lot of oxycontin and morphine at the hospital, [I had] been to the ER a few times for almost ODing and whatnot just from what they were prescribing me. So I had an ER doctor tell me, ‘I’d rather see you smoke marijuana and get off all these harmful drugs,’ so I ended up doing that and got off all my medications…A lot of marines I know, they did the same thing–they got off all their pills. For me, smoking basically got me off all my pain meds and doing a lot better…I know a lot of veterans have gotten off the opioids by smoking and are healthier and more active. I talked to my doctor at the VA and she said basically we can’t give you a recommendation [because marijuana is illegal at the local level].”
Heroin and opioid addiction is one of the more important issues to O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore, a city ravaged by the effects of open air drug markets and heroin abuse.
Speaking to attendees and press covering the event, O’Malley was direct in his assessment of the need for marijuana reform and how he planned to tackle it from the Oval Office:
“I would reschedule it [cannabis] with the executive authority–the discretion it already has. The executive branch sometimes has to exercise leadership and then the legislature will follow. Sometimes it works the opposite way. But in this particular case I’ve committed to moving it to Schedule 2 on the DEA by executive authority.”
Schedule 2 drugs are defined by the DEA as “drugs with a high potential for abuse, less abuse potential than Schedule I drugs, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” Helpfully, the DEA adds, “These drugs are also considered dangerous.”
That may not sound anything like the marijuana you know, but it is a positive step forward from the current Schedule 1 placement of cannabis, which has it sharing company with drugs “with no currently accepted medical use” like heroin and LSD.
O’Malley was more hesitant, however, to endorse full legalization, though he said that he would push for its passage should future data support three key findings: Harm reduction, violent crime reduction, and overdose reduction.
“I’m not there yet but I am watching very closely what’s happening in Colorado and Washington state. I think this is a changing area and I think a lot of us are still learning from Colorado’s experience and Washington state’s…I would think that after two or three years we would have some trend lines and some solid factual evidence upon which to base new action based on deeper understanding.”
The governor, perhaps influenced by the tremendous support anti-prohibition candidate Bernie Sanders is receiving, noted the importance of marijuana legalization to younger voters and the impact that drug policy reform will have on the upcoming election:
“I think it definitely will [have a big impact on the election]. I think it’s part of the mix of this sickness we have in our society of violent crime, and the numbers of our people who are killing themselves and overdosing on prescription drugs and other drugs, and it’s a part of the whole issue of racial justice. Make no mistake about it, I mean there are few areas that are as intertwined with our painful racial legacy that all of us share as Americans quite so much as law enforcement, public safely, and drug policies. So I think this is actually a very important issue to a lot of people and if you talk to young Americans under 30 there is a growing consensus that is consistent with many of the opinions I heard around the table here…that marijuana should be treated more akin to alcohol than to other substances.”
Currently polling in the low single digits, O’Malley is struggling to find a voice in a Democratic field dominated by the juggernaut Sanders campaign and the Clinton establishment. As governor of Maryland he decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis and was progressive in other areas including gay marriage and the death penalty. The O’Malley campaign is likely hoping to jump start itself into at least double digits, partly by demonstrating a willingness to be forward-thinking on cannabis policy. It was great to cover today’s event for Marijuana Politics and I expect that it’s a sign of similar things to come across the political spectrum as supporting sensible cannabis policies has become a common sense issue in the American mainstream.