The people do not serve the government; the government serves the people. When the people speak, the elected officials who serve them must listen — this is why we have elections. Times change. Opinions change. Public sentiment changes. Laws change.
That’s how it’s supposed to work, at least. But for too long, the federal government has turned a blind eye to the wishes of its people — and to the decisions of its states — when considering the legal status of marijuana. It’s time to change our marijuana laws, and to reschedule it as a Schedule III drug — a step that will help the economy and uphold the rights of states to give their citizens access to medicine.
An overwhelming majority of Americans — 93%, according to recent polling — support legalizing doctor-prescribed medical marijuana. Given the tense political climate across the country, finding 93% of Americans in agreement on any issue is astounding. Despite the widespread public support, however, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin and LSD. Schedule I drugs have “no established medical use,” even though an ever-growing body of research indicating its legitimate medical benefits tells a different story.
Rescheduling would make it easier to conduct further research into marijuana’s medical uses, with a lighter regulatory, paperwork, and cost burden. It is extremely difficult to conduct research on both Schedule I and Schedule II drugs, which is why Schedule III is the most sensible choice. We should encourage this medical research. Finding treatments that help people — especially treatments that don’t involve overpriced patented drugs — is an unequivocal victory. Even the President has acknowledged medical marijuana’s utility, a fact recently reiterated by Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary. If the President, the majority of American citizens, and the majority of states all agree, then it’s time to change this law.
Rescheduling marijuana would benefit our economy. Small businesses are the backbone of local economies, and businesses in the marijuana industry would finally have the legal ability to meet the needs of patients. Businesses owners will be able to focus on being entrepreneurs, without constantly having to look over their shoulders in fear of a raid. These businesses would also be able to receive loans and banking services from financial institutions, something that is currently extremely challenging. Many of these businesses are forced to operate almost entirely in cash — a prohibitive entry barrier at best, and, at worst, an invitation to tax fraud and financial crimes.
Rescheduling marijuana would also keep our states from being at loggerheads with federal law. Right now, states that have made any steps towards legalization know that their decisions are still considered illegal by the federal government. This is another issue on which the majority of American citizens agree: 5 out of 7 voters (71%) oppose the federal government cracking down on marijuana-related businesses that are legal within the state. When a state’s residents want to relax marijuana laws, its legislature is put in a bad place: do they choose to thumb their nose at the federal government, or at their people? Neither is a good choice. Neither is a responsible choice. Neither is a victory for democracy. The underlying law must be changed, and the time to do it is now.
Twenty-eight states — as well as Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia — have relaxed their marijuana laws. These are states with different demographics and political orientations. This is not a partisan issue.
While drug abuse is a danger to our nation, so is the overly punitive scheduling of marijuana. This drug should not be in the same category as heroin and LSD, and we do not need to continue with a policy that turns thousands of young people into felons every year. Nor do we need to punish the millions of people who are sick and seeking medical help — from pain, from muscle wasting, from chemotherapy-induced nausea.
While drug abuse can certainly lead to a host of social ills, so does marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug — the continued enforcement of which disproportionately harms low-income communities and people of color.
Though it is unfortunately unusual in Washington for Republicans and Democrats to work together towards commonsense reform, we will find a way. We are proud to have introduced new legislation to “provide for the rescheduling of marijuana into schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act”, in recognition of its medical benefits. We hope our colleagues on both sides of the aisle can see that this legislation will greatly benefit the American people.
Congressman Matt Gaetz, R-FL 1st District
Congressman Darren Soto, D-FL 9th District