18 House lawmakers urge softer pot policy

More than a dozen House lawmakers are urging President Obama to soften the federal government’s penalties for marijuana use. 

In a letter on Wednesday, they ask Obama to direct Attorney General Eric Holder to scale back how the government punishes people for using the drug. 

“We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II. Furthermore, one would hope that your Administration officials publicly reflect your views on this matter,” the letter says. 

Marijuana is currently listed as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, alongside drugs including LSD and heroin. The law determines how businesses pay federal taxes if they sell marijuana in states where pot is legal.

The Schedule I classification for marijuana is actually a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, the lawmakers write in the letter.

“This makes no sense,” they say.

Holder would be the one to declassify drugs under the law. 

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who spearheaded the letter, has been an outspoken proponent of legalizing marijuana. As a state legislator in 1973, he sponsored a bill that became law, which removes any criminal penalties for possession of pot, USA Today notes.

Eighteen members of Congress — mostly from the West Coast — signed the letter. Nearly all of them, 17, are Democrats, plus one Republican, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California.

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The letter comes on the heels of comments Obama made in a recent interview with The New Yorker magazine.

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol," Obama said.

The lawmakers highlighted the president’s admission in their letter.

Last week, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) urged Obama administration officials to change the federal government’s marijuana policy at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing.

The Democrat even touched on the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died the weekend before. Authorities believed he had overdosed on heroin.

"It is ludicrous, absurd, crazy to have marijuana in the same level as heroin," Cohen said. "Ask the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, if you could. Nobody dies from marijuana. People die from heroin."

Vice President Biden, however, said last week in an interview with Time magazine that the administration doesn’t plan on legalizing the possession of pot. 

“I think the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of our resources,” Biden told Time. “That’s different than [legalization.] Our policy for our administration is still not legalization, and that is [and] continues to be our policy.” 

The members to sign on to the new letter are Blumenauer, Rohrabacher, Cohen, and Democratic Reps. Sam Farr (Calif.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Mike Honda (Calif.), Jared Huffman (Calif.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (Calif.), James McGovern (Mass.), Jim Moran (Va.), Beto O’Rourke (Texas), Jared Polis (Colo.), Mike Quigley (Ill.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Eric Swalwell (Calif.), and Peter Welch (Vt.).