Last week, when Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders announced his plan to end prohibition in the United States during an Internet simulcast in Virginia, a great deal of the nation took notice that there was finally a candidate with enough guts to threaten the sanctity of the federal government’s War on Weed. However, it was later revealed that his attempt at removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act would be an action that he would try to push through in Congress rather than a campaign promise contingent on winning the keys to the White House in 2016.
While some drug policy experts believe that Sanders would have an easier time imposing marijuana reform through Congressional action rather than by the use of his executive powers if elected the next President of the United States, there just doesn’t appear to be any way in hell that legislation of this magnitude stands a fighting chance at being considered on Capitol Hill.
On top of the fact that there are still so few Republicans willing to support a marijuana-related bill that the CARERS Act, which begs to only reschedule marijuana, is still lingering in political purgatory, the new Speaker of the House, Republican Paul Ryan is not likely to risk undermining the integrity of his party by putting Sander’s “descheduling” proposal on the House docket anytime in the near future. In fact, Ryan is no supporter of legal weed – not even medical marijuana – going against the cause in every budget vote since 2012. Therefore, it is not realistic to suggest that Sanders will be able to get a bill through the House gatekeeper that asks federal controls be lifted from a substance that has been illegal at the federal level for over four decades.
Furthermore, even the Sanders proposal does get welcomed inside the walls of the U.S. House of Representatives, he would only receive support from maybe a dozen lawmakers, while the rest worked to stuff him inside a barrel of boiling oil and roll him into oncoming traffic. There are currently more than 20 marijuana-related bills idly waiting for some kind of action, most of which are not requesting reforms even remotely close to what Sanders is asking. And while it is true Congress does have the ability to make amendments to the Controlled Substances Act, the majority are simply not interested in doing so.
There is speculation that the best chance the United States has at technically eliminating prohibition in the next couple of years is if Bernie Sander does, in fact, become the next leader of the free world. This is because the President’s administration has the authority to make some changes to the Controlled Substances Act.
“In a nutshell, administrative rescheduling begins when an actor – the secretary of Health and Human Services or an outside interested party – files a petition with the attorney general or he initiates the process himself,” John Hudak, a Brookings Institute fellow in Governance Studies wrote earlier this year.
Once the process is initiated, the petition then undergoes a review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and, in this case, likely the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) before the Attorney General makes a recommendation based on whether there is “sufficient evidence that a change in scheduling is warranted.” If the AG agrees with President Sanders over his proposed reform, the opinion of the public would be sought before the issue would go in front Sanders for a final decision.
All of this, of course, is based on a perfect storm. The DEA has rejected several petitions in the past.
However, Mark Kleiman, Professor of Public Policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs, argues that the best that could happen under Sander’s executive authority is that marijuana is rescheduled. He says while the Presidential administration has the authority to reschedule cannabis, “the Controlled Substances Act is a law,” and therefore “it cannot be changed by administrative fiat.”
Basically, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders can introduce legislation to Congress asking to “deschedule” marijuana, but as President he could only move to downgrade its classification.