Justice

Eric Holder: It’s Time To Talk About Decriminalizing Marijuana

CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File

In a newly published PBS “Frontline” interview, former Attorney General Eric Holder comes out in support of reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I substance — a classification reserved for dangerous drugs that have no medical use — into a less restrictive category.

“I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled,” Holder says. “You know, we treat marijuana in the same way that we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate.”

That statement goes a bit further than Holder’s comments on marijuana when he was attorney general. In September 2014, he said rescheduling the drug is “something that I think we need to ask ourselves, and use science as the basis for making that determination.”

But the current scheduling scheme as specified by the Controlled Substances Act is far from scientific. Marijuana falls under Schedule I, while highly addictive and potent drugs such as cocaine, opium poppy, morphine, and codeine are listed as less-restricted Schedule II controlled substances. Meanwhile, the synthetic version of THC, known as dronabinol, is listed as Schedule III, even though THC is the ingredient in cannabis that causes psychoactive effects.

In the “Frontline” interview, which was filmed last September but just released on Tuesday, Holder says Congress should act to reschedule marijuana. But as ThinkProgress has previously reported, the executive branch and Drug Enforcement Agency both have the capability to unilaterally reschedule controlled substances without congressional input.

Holder’s views are more friendly toward marijuana than his successor, Loretta Lynch, who said during her January 2015 confirmation hearing, “I can tell you that not only do I not support legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support the legalization nor would it be the position should I become confirmed as attorney general.”

Holder, for his part, now says it’s time for federal lawmakers to at least consider decriminalizing marijuana altogether.

“I think that certainly that ought to be a part of the conversation,” he said in the PBS interview. “You know, where do we want to be as a nation? Now, there’s certain drugs I just can’t see. It’s hard for me to imagine ever decriminalizing crack cocaine, drugs like that. But the whole question of should marijuana be decriminalized, I mean, that’s a conversation I think that we should engage in.”

In a statement sent to ThinkProgress, Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority, says he wishes Holder would’ve worked harder toward reforming marijuana laws when he was attorney general.

“It’s nice to have Holder’s support for this sensible policy change, but it would have been a lot better if he’d exercised the power to get marijuana rescheduling done while he was still in office,” he says. “We know that Holder and President Obama are good friends, so I hope the former attorney general encourages his former boss and his successor Loretta Lynch to follow through during these final months of the administration and get the job done.”