Powerful Veterans Group Pushes Trump On Marijuana Rescheduling

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The nation’s largest military veterans organization is pushing President-elect Donald Trump to reschedule marijuana after he takes office early next year.

Top officials from the American Legion, which passed a resolution endorsing the reclassification of cannabis under federal law earlier this year, sat down with Trump’s transition team last week to discuss key priorities for the more than 2 million military veterans the organization represents, including marijuana policy reform.

The group “initiated a call-to-action on fairly new Legion priorities – support of research related to the impacts of medical marijuana and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s reclassification of cannabis from a Schedule I drug to Schedule III,” according to a summary of the meeting on the American Legion’s website. “Reclassification of the drug would allow easier access to pure strains of the substance to cultivate quantifiable research and statistics regarding marijuana’s medical benefits.”

Louis Celli, national director of the Legion’s veterans affairs and rehabilitation division, told Marijuana.com that the Trump officials at the meeting were somewhat guarded in giving feedback on specific issues during the listening session, but that when cannabis’s potential to help heal military veterans war wounds came up, “there was an immediate change in the room.”

“All shuffling stopped, people stopped looking down at their notes, and instantly all eyes were on [Legion Executive Director] Verna Jones and everyone was transfixed and intently hanging on her every word,” Celli said. “I can’t speak for how the transition team felt, but there seemed to be a small shock that snapped the room to attention. No read on how the information was received, but I think they were a little caught off guard and didn’t expect such a progressive statement from such a traditional and conservative organization.”

There were also representatives of more than 30 other veterans service organizations at the meeting.

Separately, marijuana policy reformers received another sign this week that cannabis rescheduling under Trump is not out of the question. Legalization activist Jim O’Neill was floated in the media as possible pick to lead the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an agency which plays a key role in determinations to reclassify drugs under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana policies. But reformers are concerned that he has already named several ardent cannabis law reform opponents to his Cabinet and other key administration posts.

For example, he selected U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who recently said “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” to be attorney general. He picked Congressman Tom Price of Georgia, who has regularly voted against medical cannabis amendments, to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. And this week Trump signaled that Gen. John Kelly, another critic of legalization, would head the Department of Homeland Security. He also tapped Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who led a federal lawsuit against neighboring Colorado’s marijuana law, as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

But with O’Neill at FDA and continued pressure from a large, respected organization like the American Legion, reformers have some hope that the Trump administration could seriously consider rescheduling cannabis.

In August, the DEA rejected long-pending petitions to reclassify marijuana from its current status as a Schedule I drug. That category is supposed to be reserved for substances with no medical value.

What Would Rescheduling Do?

Moving marijuana out of Schedule I — or, removing it from the CSA altogether, like alcohol and tobacco — would have a number of effects.

Reclassification to Schedule III or lower, as the American Legion is pushing for, would protect federal employees who use marijuana from a Reagan-era executive order that defines illegal drugs as Schedule I or II substances.

Additionally, only drugs under Schedules I and II are affected by the tax provision known as “280E,” which disallows state-legal businesses from deducting normal operational expenses from their federal taxes.

Because current laws and regulations prevent the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy from fairly evaluating Schedule I drugs, reclassification would allow the government to examine and communicate about marijuana in a way that prioritizes science instead of an outdated drug war mindset.

Rescheduling would also make scientific research easier. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, testified before the Senate that marijuana’s Schedule I status means there are “additional steps” that scientists wishing to study it must take and that reclassification would expand opportunities for research.

Moving cannabis out of Schedule I would also put an end to threats that newspapers who mail publications containing marijuana advertisements are facing from the U.S. Postal Service, since the federal law that agency cites to justify its actions only applies to Schedule I drugs.

Finally, removing marijuana from Schedule I and officially recognizing that the drug has medical value would send a strong message to state lawmakers and international leaders that the federal government is beginning to address decades of mistakes on marijuana policy, and that they should too.

But rescheduling alone would not remove the criminal penalties that still put people abiding by state marijuana laws at risk of federal prosecution and prison sentences. Other statutes would have to be amended to accomplish that.

Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Marijuana.com. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)

20 Comments

  1. Great work, Tom! – Instead of celebrating our legalization victories, marijuana reform feels like a funeral these days! – I’m sure all is not as dark as most reformers seem to think.

    Thanks for your intense coverage of Trump’s position!

  2. Justin Michels on

    While I am very appreciative of the information you have shared here, one aspect seems to have been overlooked. Once the federal government acknowledges relative safety and/or legitimate medical use of cannabis, the legal justification for denying religious freedom for Rastas, Hindus, and others who view ganja as sacrament will go up in smoke. It is my belief this explains why the federal government has been so reluctant to give up “schedule I” status, because doing so undermines their legal authority for prohibition as a whole…

  3. This is wonderful. I just wish people would understand how important this medicine is , not just for the vets, but for everyone who needs it.

  4. Someday we may look back at the war on drugs just like the soviets and Chinese look back at their war on economic freedom and ask; “how could we have been so wrong for so long?”.

  5. I’m a Vietnam Vet who was injured during the war the government lied to us then what makes you think their going to stop now? Do you seriously think the government is actually going to do something to benefit us veterans? I would seriously surprised,I’ve been hopefull
    That one day cannabus would finally be legal to use in any sercomstance were ever you choose to use it with the same laws that alcohol have it makses more sense that it’s done that way than going through all this $hit! Check out EmojiXpress – bit.ly/EmojiXpress
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  6. Not entirely sure that the Feds under Trump will make any changes at all, but I do love the fact that the Legion came out strong for rescheduling.

    When an organization this conservative comes out this hard against the drug war, we’ve got to be edging to an end, right?

    Just like with everything, they’re probably losing members to the real danger: the scourge that is prescription painkillers.

    Great article as always, Tom!

  7. Mark R Gildersleeve on

    Trumps cabinet picks are the most concerning, it is obvious that he isnt a reformer,
    If anything he could actually make all our work turn into a nightmare,
    The Dea blatant reiteration that MJ is schedule 1 no purpose but addiction and criminals that
    Break their law go to prison ,
    Now thats a big job maker cororate prisons to house all of us that are breaking the law,
    Trumps a demagogue and will say anything to please anybody,
    His acttions are the things that count,
    The next step is a big storm of fake news about MJ to bteak our majority that we are experiencing lately,
    It would not take much,
    I dont Trump he is a loose canon,

  8. Trump says he supports letting states decide on their own pot laws, but he appoints people that are against any legalization of pot. Just like he appointed an anti-environmental person to the EPA

    • Mr. Trump (PRESIDENT ELECT) will do the right thing..!! He has so many things to straighten out, I don’t imagine he will get to Marijuana first, although I want it as much as anyone…I have complete confidence ,in President Elect ,to follow through, with what he said, when he was running for PRESIDENT..It would be the States decision…

  9. Trey Gody put in last stimulus bill on line 158 that states who voted on medical or rec cannabis and made legal the federal government laws do not apply to cannabis any more, it’s left up to the states. And Obama signed it, so it’s law and legal where states voted to make it legal, but not for military members. But 2 VA hospitals for the VA is allowed to use on vets to see if it really helps them, it does and will.

  10. Obama is just as much to blame for the continued Sch 1 of MJ as Trump maybe; he has had 8 years to propose a change and did Nothing! And what really Gauls me, is the fact that 90+% of his commuted prison terms are for possession and sale of Narc’s, and Obama could not get his FDA/DEA to reschedule MJ??

  11. May we note the uses of cannabis that do not involve consuming it? Anything that can be made from oil out of the ground (plastics, paint, motor fuel, etc.) can be made from cannabis oil. Henry Ford made car body panels from hemp and motor fuel from a biological source does not add carbon to the atmosphere – it just recycles it through the plant. The fiber is top grade for nearly any application (textiles, paper, etc.) and hemp can be used as biomass to produce ethanol. Hempseed is without peer as a healthy and nutritious food source.

    Given the genetic maleability of the Noble Weed, add genetic modification to the equation, and there is no telling what new products can come with relegalization.

  12. Please, please reschedule medical marijuana so all of us Veterans can use medical marijuana without worrying about losing our jobs !! As some of us do work for the state or Federal government, and can lose our jobs if tested just for Medical Marijuana. But its OK to use opioids? That will & is killing us.!!! Please Mr. Trump help all us veterans.. ASAP

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