Pot reform talk heats up

The marijuana reform debate is in full swing on the Democratic side.

By Aaron Walker

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Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley stands between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on marijuana reform policy.

On Nov. 7 O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, told The Daily Iowan he sees full recreational legalization as a possibility.

“I’m not yet at a point in saying we should move to full recreational adult use of marijuana,” O’Malley said. “I could get there, depending on the experience of Colorado and Washington state, and I think we should be guided by what policies reduce harm.”

On the same day, Hillary Clinton proposed reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule 1 narcotic to a Schedule 2 drug, an action O’Malley has supported. But Sanders supports taking marijuana off the federal controlled substances list all together.

Currently, marijuana is federally classified with heroin, LSD, and MDMA, among others, as having high potential for abuse, no accepted medical treatment use, and a lack of safety under medical supervision.

Schedule 2 drugs include morphine, oxycodone, and Adderall, which are not available for recreational purposes in any state. But the reclassification would allow assert marijuana to have some accepted medical use, with severe restrictions.

Iowa Democrats failed to pass a bill this year that would have allowed for medical marijuana and reclassify it as a Schedule 2 drug.

“I’ve been talking to state lawmakers for quite a while and it’s the Schedule 1 that always puzzles them,” said Carl Olsen, the executive director of Iowans for Medical Marijuana. “It would have huge psychological impact on our legislators.”

He said there could be more bipartisan support in the future if the drug is shown by the federal government to have some accepted medical benefits.

“I trust O’Malley more than Clinton because he’s had that position longer; seems like she just got on board, although I’m happy she did,” Olsen said. 

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and Washington, D.C., and legal for recreational purposes in four of those states. Fifty-eight percent of Americans say marijuana should be legalized, according to a Gallup Poll released in October with an error margin of 4 percentage points. That is 7 percentage points higher than Gallup reported in October of 2014.

Even though the majority of Americans are in favor of marijuana legalization, reclassifying the drug would only allow for research and medical use.

“If we’re going to have a lot of states setting up marijuana dispensaries so that people who have some kind of medical need are getting marijuana, we need to know what’s the quality of it, how much should you take, what should you avoid if you’re taking other medications,” Clinton said.

Sanders was quick to give a mixed reaction to Clinton’s proposal. In a press release Nov. 7, Sanders said Clinton’s proposal does not go far enough.

“I am glad to see Secretary Clinton is beginning to address an issue that my legislation addressed,” he said. “But her approach ignored the major issue.”

The major issue, Sanders said, is the effect federal law has on incarceration rates, which disproportionately imprison minorities.

There were 620,000 marijuana-possession arrests in 2014. There were 8 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, and 88 percent were for possession, according to the ACLU.

Seventy percent of adults in Iowa support legalization for medical purposes, according to a Des Moines Register poll with an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points released earlier this year. But only 30 percent were in favor of legalization for recreational use.

The Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C., organization dedicated to marijuana reform, gave Sanders an A rating. Clinton received a B and O’Malley received a C-minus. The group attributes his grade to statements he made as a governor condemning marijuana use for any purpose.

“As more states end their punitive marijuana policies, it becomes more difficult for the federal government to justify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug,” said Lauren Vasquez, the project’s deputy director of communications.

She argued against stricter marijuana policies from some GOP candidates such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Sen. Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson.

“Several other candidates have already said they would strictly enforce federal marijuana laws and crack down on states that have legal marijuana. This could delay change at the federal level.”

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