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September 17, 2019 | In The News

Editorial: Steube’s bill would loosen pot restrictions

At first glance, U.S. Rep. Greg Steube seems an unlikely candidate to file a bill to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug.

The Sarasota Republican has established himself in Congress as a staunch conservative and strong supporter of President Donald Trump. He gained national attention for grilling former special counsel Robert Mueller at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. He even voted against a disaster-relief bill that included aid for Florida hurricane victims, citing “outrageous spending.”

Yet, for Steube, marijuana is a different story. An Army veteran, Steube has developed a close relationship with fellow veterans, many of whom have found that marijuana provides relief from post-traumatic stress disorder and other service-related disabilities.

Steube is aware, as noted by the Herald-Tribune’s Billy Cox in the special report “Warriors Rise Up,” that almost 21 veterans and active-duty personnel every day commit suicide due in part to such afflictions.

In April, Steube sponsored the Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act, which would essentially prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from denying benefits to soldiers who use medical marijuana. Use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is legal in 33 states, including Florida, yet it remains a federal offense.

In keeping with his conservative values, Steube’s reclassification bill is not exactly radical. The bill would downgrade marijuana from Schedule 1 — meaning a dangerous drug, like heroin, that has no medicinal value — to Schedule 3.

As a Schedule 3 drug, marijuana would still be a controlled substance, but it would be legal at the federal level for doctors to prescribe it for patients, including veterans and active-duty personnel. Medical marijuana might also be eligible for insurance coverage.

The Schedule 1 classification also inhibits marijuana research, as Steube noted in a press release.

“By rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance to a Schedule III controlled substance, the opportunities for research and study are drastically expanded,” Steube said. “With this rescheduling, researchers can now access federal funds to research this substance and determine its medical value.”

Proponents of medical marijuana say its use by more than 3 million Americans in 33 states has settled any question of medical value. The American Legion, the nation’s oldest veterans service organization, has called for removing marijuana from the controlled substances list altogether.

And proponents have a strong case. The fact that marijuana is listed on Schedule 1 is a travesty of long standing.

As Cox reported in “Warriors Rise Up,” when Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1971, marijuana was assigned Schedule 1 status only until it could be reviewed by a special board.

That board, the National Commission on Marihuana (sic) and Drug Abuse, concluded in 1972 that marijuana is not dangerous and urged an end to its prohibition, but the Nixon administration and Congress ignored that recommendation.

So Steube’s proposal might be a small step toward righting a wrong done decades ago, but it’s a step nonetheless. And the fact that a conservative like Steube is taking that step is a hopeful sign that Congress might finally be willing to turn a page in the nation’s long marijuana story.