Hillary Clinton proposed loosening restrictions on marijuana in South Carolina on Saturday, telling a largely African-American audience that she would like to reschedule the drug in order to spur research.
“What I do want is for us to support research into medical marijuana because a lot more states have passed medical marijuana than have legalized marijuana, so we have got two different experiences or even experiments going on right now,” Clinton said. “The problem with medical marijuana is there is a lot of anecdotal evidence about how well it works for certain conditions. But we haven’t done any research. Why? Because it is considered that is called a schedule one drug and you can’t even do research in it.”
She added, “I would like to move it from what is called Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 so that researchers at universities, national institutes of health can start researching what is the best way to use it, how much of a dose does somebody need, how does it interact with other medications.”
This is a new position for Clinton, who in the past has said she wanted to spur research but has never endorsed reclassifying the drug.
Marijuana is currently categorized by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 drug, the highest categorization for drugs “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
Rescheduling the drug would open up the possibility of more research into marijuana and the way it interacts with other substance.
Clinton did not endorse legalizing marijuana on Saturday, instead saying she wanted to “see how it works” in states like Colorado and Washington that have legalized the drug “before we do a national plan from the federal government. Because I think there is a lot for us to learn.”
Clinton has long been more conservative than many Democrats on marijuana. Asked during the CNN debate in October whether she would legalize the drug, Clinton simply said “no” and repeated the line that she wanted to learn from the states.
Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s stoutest Democratic challenger, has sought to seize on marijuana as a wedge issue with Clinton, filing a bill in the Senate earlier this month that would allow states to decide whether to legalize recreational use of marijuana and decriminalize the drug at the federal level.
“It’s a state and a federal issue. The federal issue is that we should remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act. That’s a federal decision,” Sanders told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday. “The state decision is that we live in a federal system of government where issues like tobacco and alcohol are significantly regulated by the states. And I think that is a province of the states.”
And Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who is a distant third in the Democratic race, proposed rescheduling marijuana earlier this year as part of his criminal justice reform plan.
Clinton’s subtle announcement was not heralded by all marijuana activists.
“The rescheduling of marijuana is a step in the right direction, but only going down to Schedule 2 is mostly a symbolic move,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. “It may make research slightly easier, but on its own wouldn’t do anything to protect seriously ill people who are using marijuana in accordance with state laws from being harassed by the DEA. Only changing the federal criminal statutes can effectively do that.”
Angell, who has been supportive of Clinton’s moves on marijuana in the past, added that he was hopeful it was “only a matter of time before (Clinton) officially adds her voice in support of legislation that would” change federal criminal statutes.