18 in Congress urge Obama to ease limits on pot

Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle

Eighteen members of Congress, including sixfrom Northern California, urged President Obama on Wednesday to remove marijuana from the government's list of the most dangerous drugs and allow doctors to prescribe it.

"Lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic and unfair marijuana laws," the House members said in a letter to Obama.

They cited his comment in a New Yorker magazine interview last month that marijuana, which he smoked as a youth, was no more dangerous than alcohol. In a Jan. 31 interview on CNN, however, Obama was asked if he planned to remove marijuana from Schedule One, the strictest prohibition for narcotics under federal law, and he replied that it was a "job for Congress."

That appeared to contradict a federal law that allows presidential appointees to ease drug restrictions they believe are no longer warranted.

The Controlled Substances Act authorizes the attorney general, through regulations of the Drug Enforcement Administration, to remove a drug from Schedule One if it has legitimate medical uses. Advocacy groups, including Americans for Safe Access in Oakland, have repeatedly asked the DEA to reschedule marijuana, but the agency has refused and fought off court challenges under successive administrations, including Obama's.

The signers of Wednesday's letter from Northern California were Reps. Barbara Lee of Oakland, Jared Huffman of San Rafael, Eric Swalwell of Dublin, Sam Farr of Monterey, and Mike Honda and Zoe Lofgren of San Jose. All the signers are Democrats, except for Dana Rohrabacher, an Orange County Republican who has also called for a halt to federal prosecution of medical marijuana users in states like California that allow such use.

The letter recommended moving marijuana at least to Schedule Three, which would authorize medical prescriptions and also allow legal marijuana businesses to deduct expenses from their taxes.

Other Schedule Three drugs include codeine, morphine, steroids and the cannabis pill Marinol.