Eric Holder’s marijuana problem

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Paul Danish/Sue France

Last week it emerged that Eric Holder, Obama’s first attorney general, thinks marijuana should be rescheduled from a Schedule 1 controlled substance — the classification in federal law supposedly reserved for the most dangerous drugs that have no recognized medical uses (like heroin, LSD and ecstasy) — to something more appropriate.

“I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled,” Holder said in an interview with the PBS show Frontline that was conducted last September but, for some reason, not released until last week. “You know, we treat marijuana in the same way that we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate. So at a minimum, I think Congress needs to do that.”

What a guy.

And what a perfect example of why so many Americans are losing faith in the federal government’s ability to solve problems.
So Holder thinks marijuana should be rescheduled, eh? Well, why didn’t he do it? The Controlled Substances Act, the law that sets up the scheduling system, gives the attorney general of the United States the power to reschedule drugs covered by the act, or to delist them entirely.

The rescheduling process can be initiated by a petition from a citizens’ group or initiated by the attorney general himself. If the latter, the attorney general asks the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) for “a scientific and medical evaluation, and his recommendations, as to whether such a drug or other substance should be so controlled or removed as a controlled substance.” The HHS secretary’s findings on scientific and medical issues are binding on the attorney general, and if the secretary unilaterally finds the drug should not be controlled, that finding is also binding on the attorney general.

In other words, Holder could have started the process for rescheduling or delisting pot on his own initiative, although the core of the decision to do so would rest with the HHS secretary. But Holder never had even the minimal interest or backbone required to get the ball rolling.

Holder served as attorney general from the start of the Obama administration in 2009 to April 2015. According to figures in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, from January 2009 through December 2014, there were 4,614,516 marijuana arrests — 4,059,679 of them for possession. And during that time Holder wouldn’t lift a finger to start the rescheduling process. He wouldn’t even say marijuana should be rescheduled until he left office — and then he said the rescheduling should be done by (a Republican) Congress that he knows damn well won’t do it.
Not exactly a profile in courage.

In June 2013, the ACLU released a study showing that while marijuana was used by roughly the same proportions of white and black Americans, blacks were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested on pot charges than whites.

Blacks make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, but if they are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for pot than whites, it means that blacks account for about 48 percent of the pot arrests — or about 2.2 million people on Holder’s watch.

The Black Lives Matter movement has put criminal justice reform at the top of its agenda. Well, it’s hard to think of a reform that would more swiftly and decisively address the way the criminal justice system discriminates against black people than delisting marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

One of the first things Holder said when he took office was that America needed to have an honest discussion about race.

OK, how about starting with the role of pot busts in giving young blacks criminal records — which further foreclose the already limited economic opportunities of young blacks flowing from the collapse of the black family and second rate schools in black neighborhoods?

And what about the refusal of America’s first black attorney general to do anything about it when he had the power to do so?

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