Rescheduling and libertarian derangement syndrome

February 1, 2014
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Anybody who’s been involved in marijuana policy during the past, oh, 42 years, knows about scheduling. Cannabis was placed into Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, provisionally, and, despite the Commission report which should have removed it, was left there. Since then, every petition to change the scheduling has been blocked, not by scientific evidence, but by political decisions from the executive branch.

Of course, having marijuana on Schedule 1 has led to serious real harms, including the restriction on using a medical necessity defense in federal courts (US v. Oakland Cannabis Buyer’s Cooperative).

The Schedule 1 status has also had potent symbolic political power, with the DEA holding a death grip on the status to protect their enforcement turf (while simultaneously allowing easy and fast rescheduling for pharmaceutical products like Marinol).

Of course, in recent years, it’s become more and more obvious, to even the general population, how absurd it is to have cannabis classified in Schedule 1 (or, for that matter, to be scheduled at all, when alcohol and tobacco are not).

So it’s not likely to be popular to let people know that you have the ability to change that classification… and haven’t. Which may be why President Obama weaseled his way out of any responsibility for it in his most recent interview.

Confused About Power to Reschedule Pot, Advocates Say (by Steven Nelson in US News and World Report):

“What is and isn’t a Schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress,” Obama told Jake Tapper of CNN. “It’s not something by ourselves that we start changing. No, there are laws under – undergirding those determinations.” [...]

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., tells U.S. News it’s “very clear” that the law “actually permits reclassification administratively.”

“I don’t dispute that Congress could and should make the change, but it’s also something the administration could do in a matter of days and I hope they will consider it,” says Blumenauer, who is currently circulating a letter among colleagues asking Obama to do so. Eight members of Congress have signed the letter so far.

I, too, would like to see Congress step up, but there’s no doubt that the President can act independently.

Also pointing out the simple and uncontroversial fact that the President has the power to reschedule, was Jacob Sullum, who wrote: Obama, Who Evidently Has Not Read the Controlled Substances Act, Denies That He Has the Power to Reclassify Marijuana.

Obama often speaks as if he is an outside observer of his own administration [...]

That led to this bizarre screed by Mark A.R. Kleiman: Futile pursuits: chasing rainbows and rescheduling cannabis. Kleiman, while not identifying a single inaccuracy in Sullum’s report, nevertheless chose to spew this:

The discussion of “rescheduling” marijuana is confused because most of the people engaged in it don’t know how the law works.

Jacob Sullum, always willing to let his ignorance be the measure of other people’s knowledge, utterly unwilling to let mere facts get in the way of libertarian ideology, and eager to please his paymasters by slagging a Democratic President, illustrates my point in his response to the latest CNN Obama interview.

Those who read Mark Kleiman’s blog on a regular basis know that he suffers from an extreme case of libertarian derangement syndrome. Mark is a big fan of nanny-state government and a strong promoter of intervention into the lives of those whom Kleiman believes are unable/unwilling to make appropriate/proper decisions for themselves. (You see this in his preferences for extremely high regulation of currently illicit drugs and alcohol, particularly as relates to those who abuse them.) One of his biggest fears appears to be a net reduction in government authority in our lives.

While he often criticizes government himself, it is with the idea of reforming or replacing the corrupt or improperly working program. Any attempt to suggest ending/reducing (or even criticizing) a nanny-state program without in the same breath pointing out the value of government intervention is met with this same libertarian derangement syndrome reaction.

Of course, I’m just conducting my own little Psychology 101 experiment in trying to read Mr. Kleiman, but the analysis seems to fit. It goes a way toward explaining the also bizarre decision to recently criticize Radley Balko’s work out of the blue.

Note to Radley Balko: Congratulations on your new gig at the Washington Post. Your criticisms of police excess – often spot-on – would have more cred if, just once, you celebrated police success, or noticed that liberty can be threatened by crime as well as by official misconduct. [...]

I’m all for Radley’s exposes of police misconduct. I’d just prefer if he occasionally reminded his readers what the police are there for in the first place.

Many of us in drug policy reform have received the brunt of Mark’s wrath many times for merely being activists. We see our job as being primarily to bring an end to the destruction of prohibition, and don’t all agree that the best replacement for it is heavy regulatory interference, regardless of whether we are liberal, libertarian, conservative, or something else. We also see the discussion of what to do about drug abuse post-prohibition to be its own valuable separate discussion.

And yet, Mr. Kleiman regularly takes honest anti-drug war activism (if it doesn’t also explicitly call for a sufficient level of nanny-statism), and equates it with the corruption and dishonesty of prohibitionists (worse-yet, the corruption and dishonesty of prohibitionists utilizing the power of government). That equation just doesn’t balance.

I have, in the past, pointed out that I believe Mark Kleiman to be quite intelligent and knowledgeable about drug policy, and I have noted numerous times when I have agreed with him.

But to use his own words, I think his policy recommendations would “have more cred” if he was able to accept the fact that there are critiques of specific government actions/programs (by libertarians, drug policy reformers, or others) that can be valid per se, without also providing some shibboleth of supporting governmental intervention.

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Pete Guither is the editor of drugwarrant.com

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