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GOP Senators Tell DEA To Reject Marijuana Rescheduling, Arguing It Would Violate International Treaties

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Three Republican senators are urging the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to reject the top federal health agency’s marijuana rescheduling recommendation, arguing that it would put the U.S. out of compliance with international treaty obligations and make it harder to ensure that other countries continue to enforce drug laws, “including for deadly narcotics like fentanyl.”

In a letter sent to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram on Wednesday, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT), James Risch (R-ID) and Pete Ricketts (R-NE) said the agency should adhere to precedent and decline to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has advised.

“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,” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee members wrote.


Three Republican senators are urging the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to reject the top federal health agency’s marijuana rescheduling recommendation, arguing that it would put the U.S. out of compliance with international treaty obligations and make it harder to ensure that other countries continue to enforce drug laws, “including for deadly narcotics like fentanyl.”

In a letter sent to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram on Wednesday, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT), James Risch (R-ID) and Pete Ricketts (R-NE) said the agency should adhere to precedent and decline to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has advised.

“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,” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee members wrote.


“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,” they said.

The letter notes that the Senate ratified the Single Convention that contains drug policy mandates for member states in an unanimous vote in 1967. And they pointed out that DEA has previously cited international treaty obligations in denying past rescheduling petitions.


“It is important that the DEA continues to follow the law and abide by our treaty commitments,” they said, listing a series of questions they’re asking the agency to answer.


For example, the senators asked if DEA still considers it necessary to keep marijuana in either Schedule I or Schedule II to comply with the Single Convention, as it concluded under the Obama administration.

They also want to know if DEA has consulted with the State Department “regarding marijuana and any diplomatic implications of a rescheduling decision.”

“Has the DEA consulted with key counterdrug partner nations about our shared obligations under the Single Convention and their views regarding a potential rescheduling by the United States?” they asked.

“What impact would a potential failure by the United States to uphold its treaty obligations have on our ability to ensure other countries continue to enforce their own drug controls under the Single Convention—including for deadly narcotics like fentanyl?” the senators wrote.


Kevin Sabet, president of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), said the organization is “grateful for Senator Romney’s leadership on this critical issue of public health and safety for all Americans

“It is well documented that reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule III drug would violate our international treaty obligations,” he said. “The points made by Senator Romney must be seriously considered by the DEA and DOJ before any decision on rescheduling is finalized.”

Supporters and opponents of rescheduling marijuana have made competing arguments about the influence of international treaty obligations in the final decision that DEA is expected to hand down.


For example, a Democratic congresswoman recently implored DEA to “reject any argument” that rescheduling marijuana under federal law would constitute a violation of international treaty obligations. She also asked the agency to reveal a list of any “outside partners” it has met with to discuss the global implications of a potential cannabis reclassification.

Legal experts recently released an opinion that disputes that assessment. In fact, they argued that a move to Schedule III would better uphold the country’s broader obligations under international law to regulate cannabis in a way that protects public health and safety.

Another lawmaker who’s raised concerns about treaty obligations is Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), who addressed the issue in a separate letter sent to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram late last month, claiming that any reclassification that puts marijuana outside of Schedule I or Schedule II “would constitute a violation of the Single Convention,” referring to the 1961 United Nations (UN) Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.


But as a coalition of 12 senators pointed out in a separate letter to Milgram a week earlier, the UN has since revised global cannabis scheduling policies and allowed other member states, such as Canada, to legalize and regulate marijuana without penalty. Those lawmakers urged DEA to legalize marijuana completely.

The UN’s INCB did recently reiterate that it considers legalizing marijuana for non-medical or non-scientific purposes a violation of international treaties.

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