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Republican Senators Send Letter to DEA Arguing Rescheduling Would Break International Treaties

Republican efforts to hold back the tide of marijuana reform seemingly highlights a growing divide between traditional party leadership and a more progressive younger base. In the most recent development, a group of Republican senators champions a letter to the DEA, urging them to resist the rescheduling of cannabis, citing international treaty concerns and outdated notions of its dangers.

But as demographic shifts reveal, a significant portion of conservative-leaning young Republicans—57%—comprise the rising tide of support for comprehensive legalization. This discrepancy raises questions about the relevance and representativeness of the GOP’s steadfast anti-cannabis stance in a changing political landscape.

The Battle in the GOP’s Ranks

Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), Senator Pete Ricketts (R-NE), and Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) — from the old school of Republican politics—are not backing down on their views on cannabis prohibition. Their latest letter to the DEA is rooted in the notion that marijuana’s placement as a Schedule I drug is necessary to fulfill U.S. treaty obligations. However, their argument fails to acknowledge the evolution of both scientific understanding and global attitudes toward cannabis. For instance, Germany the largest economy in Europe legalizing cannabis starting in April.

“Any effort to reschedule marijuana must be based on proven facts and scientific evidence—not the favored policy of a particular administration—and account for our treaty obligations.” pens the Senators in the letter.

“In prior rescheduling proceedings, the DEA has determined that section 811(d) requires it to classify marijuana as a schedule I or II drug in order to comply with our treaty obligations under the Single Convention,” the senators continued. “It is important that the DEA continues to follow the law and abide by our treaty commitments.”

“Marijuana is controlled under the Single Convention—which is not surprising given its known dangers and health risks—and the United Nation’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has fiercely criticized efforts to legalize marijuana in other countries as a violation of the treaty.”

The GOP’s stance on marijuana has significant implications, particularly as a generational shift reveals a stark contrast of opinion within the party. As we reported yesterday, a poll from Pew Research Center shows that younger Republicans, seemingly influenced by common sense and the growing body of research supporting the medicinal and therapeutic potential of cannabis, are less inclined to support the prohibitionist positions held by their elders.

With such a divide, the letter to the DEA painted a picture of a party out of touch with its own members—a party attempting to cling to outdated paradigms in the face of overwhelming evidence and public sentiment.

The Discrepancy of Data and Doctrine

At the heart of the GOP senators’ argument is their belief that marijuana is a dangerous substance with no accepted medical value, convenient rhetoric to maintain its Schedule I classification. Yet, these assertions are increasingly being challenged by the very institutions they purport to defend. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended rescheduling cannabis to Schedule III, recognizing potential benefits and suggesting a regulatory framework more attuned to current research.

The conflict arises when the older guard of Republicans chooses to overlook such recommendations in favor of maintaining status quo. Their claims of marijuana’s dangers, citing the potential for abuse and public health risks, stand on a foundation eroded by the passage of time and the accumulation of contrary evidence.

In their staunch opposition to cannabis reform, these GOP senators are quick to highlight disparaging reports and outdated notions concerning the plant. However, they conspicuously fail to acknowledge the overwhelming body of evidence that has emerged in its favor. For instance, NORML, points out that in the past decade alone, there have been over 30,000 scientific papers published on cannabis research.

This vast collection of research provides robust evidence regarding the therapeutic benefits, safety profile, and economic potential of cannabis. The selective attention to negative portrayals without recognizing the substantial and growing evidence base not only undermines the credibility of their arguments but also highlights a reluctance to engage with the nuanced reality of modern cannabis science and public opinion.

The insistence on treaty compliance as a reason to deny rescheduling appears more as a flimsy pretext than a substantive argument when weighed against the overwhelming support for change.

Not The First Letter

The letter from Senators Romney, Risch, and Ricketts is not an isolated instance of Republican leaders appealing to the DEA to ignore the Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendation on cannabis rescheduling. In fact, a similar episode unfolded in September 2023, when the HHS’s recommendation came to light.

At that time, 14 Republican legislators rallied together to draft their own letter to the DEA, urging the agency to maintain marijuana’s Schedule I classification. This plea was rooted in a similar vein of argumentation, emphasizing concerns over public health and safety, and the potential for abuse, despite the growing body of evidence negating these points.

The consistent pushback from segments of Republican leadership against the HHS’s recommendation highlights a significant, and perhaps widening, rift within the party—a division between maintaining traditional, prohibitionist views and adapting to evolving scientific understanding and public opinion on cannabis.

This latest letter to the DEA represents not just another chapter in the anti-cannabis narrative but a deliberate choice to disregard the abundant evidence demonstrating cannabis’s multifaceted utility and medical benefits.

It’s not a secret that the American political landscape on BOTH sides is largely shaped by older generations, whose perspectives often dominate the policymaking process. However, the dissonance between these entrenched views and the progressive attitudes of today’s younger generations is becoming increasingly apparent.

In light of this generational shift, the insistence on keeping cannabis within the confines of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) appears more as a defense of outdated ideologies rather than a measure based on current evidence or public sentiment. To address this misalignment head-on—and to truly reflect the evolving understanding of cannabis’s role in society—the only reasonable course of action transcends mere rescheduling. It necessitates the complete removal of cannabis from the CSA.

Such a step would not only align legislation with scientific consensus and public opinion but would also signal a willingness to adapt to the times, prioritizing evidence-based policy over historical prejudice. The path forward is clear: for cannabis reform to be meaningful and reflective of current knowledge and social attitudes, it must fully liberate cannabis from the CSA’s constraints.

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