Hillary Clinton’s new proposal to loosen federal research restrictions on marijuana wouldn’t immediately affect Oregon and other states that have legalized recreational use of the drug.

But it does signal that the front-runner in the Democratic presidential race is moving toward a more pro-marijuana approach as she competes against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — who favors removing federal restrictions altogether.

Clinton announced in Orangeburg, S.C., on Saturday that she favors moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II on the federal controlled substances list.  That would ease curbs on research but would not remove other federal restrictions.

The states that have legalized recreational marijuana — Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Alaska — would continue to be in conflict with federal law. And medical marijuana use, allowed in 23 states, would also remain technically illegal in the eyes of the federal government.

Clinton had previously said she supported allowing the states to continue to experiment with marijuana law but wasn’t ready to change federal law.  On Saturday, Clinton said more research is crucial as legal use of the drug becomes more widespread.

She was quoted by CNN as saying:

“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…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.”

Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said his group was happy that the Democratic candidates are seeking “the approval of people who support sensible marijuana policy.”

He said Clinton’s proposal to reschedule marijuana “has some value” but still treats it as a much more dangerous drug than it is.

Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said in an email that it “solves her political problem to ‘do something about marijuana'” but may not have the impact she hopes on marijuana approach. 

Sabet’s group opposes legalization on the grounds it will lead to more use and abuse.  “We’re thankful she’s rejected legalizing marijuana outright,” he said.

Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said that Clinton’s proposal would have little direct impact on marijuana businesses because they would remain technically illegal under federal law.  That means they still couldn’t deduct many of their business expenses or get access to most banking services.

After Washington and Colorado voters legalized marijuana in 2012, the Obama administration allowed states to proceed with retail sales under certain conditions.

The Republican presidential candidates have been split on whether they would shut down state-regulated retail sales or allow the states to continue with legalization.

Jeff Mapes

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