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Just-Retired Top US Global Narc: Marijuana Rescheduling Likely

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Until last month, he was the top international anti-drug official in the U.S. Now he says it is likely that the federal government will have to reclassify marijuana as more states enact legalization.

“Let the experiment advance. Consider its positive and negative effects,” William Brownfield, who resigned only weeks ago as Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, said in a new interview.

“Let’s see how many other states advance in this direction because we are a democracy and for the moment we do not have a consensus position. In California, the most populous state, they voted for legalization, but in Texas, the second most populous state, they have not even wanted to consider it. When the conclusions are drawn, it is likely that substances may be reclassified.”

That’s a remarkable statement coming from someone who was in charge of representing the U.S.’s position in the global drug war for more than six years, as Brownfield was until a few weeks ago.

But even as he acknowledges it may soon be time for the government to remove marijuana from Schedule I — the most restrictive category in federal law, which is supposed to be reserved for substances with a high potential abuse and no medical value — don’t mistake Brownfield for an anti-prohibition activist.

“I am not a fan of legalization,” he said in the new interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.

Brownfield did acknowledge, however, that legalization is an “experiment that allows us to observe and learn.”

Even while citing traffic accidents and emergency room visits allegedly associated with cannabis, and arguing that local governments’ desire to generate revenue from legal marijuana sales “doesn’t seem like anything healthy,” he clarifies that he’s “not saying that [legalization] is a failure.”

“But,” he says, “I insist that we must be able to adjust policies to ensure that they do the least possible harm.”

Brownfield, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Venezuela and Chile during the Bush administration, made headlines in recent years by shepherding along a new U.S. posture on drugs under President Obama. While the country historically pressured other nations into maintaining a prohibition approach, that became more difficult once U.S. states started legalizing marijuana.

“How could I, a representative of the government of the United States of America, be intolerant of a government that permits any experimentation with legalization of marijuana if two of the 50 states of the United States of America have chosen to walk down that road?” Brownfield asked in 2014, when Colorado and Washington were the only states to have ended prohibition. That number has since quadrupled.

Also in the new interview, Brownfield sharply criticized comments his former boss, President Trump, made about Colombia’s role in the war on drugs.

Trump threatened to “decertify” the country as a partner in drug policy last month, a move that could have harsh consequences for fiscal aid and trade between the two nations.

To decertify Colombia would have been “a fundamental error, counterproductive, false, and very stupid,” Brownfield said, adding that it would be “nonsense, an insult, an insult to the hundreds of Colombians who have given their lives” in the drug war.

All Brownfield quotes in this story were automatically translated by Google and then cleaned up with the help of a few fluent Spanish speakers.

Photo courtesy of M a n u e l.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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