Plus, a reader question about paid agitators at protests.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 10 minutes.

Today, we're covering the new proposal to reschedule cannabis as a Schedule III drug. Plus, a reader question about protest agitators.

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While I'm trying not to focus on them too much, the campus protests happening around the country are raising a lot of interesting issues about protest movements, free speech, and the current war in Gaza. Tomorrow, I'm going to share a few thoughts on those issues that I'm not seeing in many other places.

Quick hits.

  1. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is increasing pressure on Hamas to seal a ceasefire deal, saying the window is closing for an agreement. Hamas is seeking assurances that the deal will completely end Israel's offensive in Gaza. (The negotiations
  2. Police entered UCLA's campus this morning amid reports of multiple acts of violence at pro-Palestinian encampments. Videos on social media show pro-Israel protestors lobbing fireworks into the encampments and fights breaking out. UCLA canceled all classes on Wednesday. (The clashes) Meanwhile, Columbia University arrested over 100 people and blamed outside agitators for escalatory tactics. (The arrests)
  3. The Fed held interest rates steady for the sixth straight time, citing a lack of progress against inflation. (The decision)
  4. Johnson & Johnson has proposed paying $6.5 billion over 25 years to settle thousands of lawsuits that its baby powder and talc-based products caused ovarian cancer. (The offer)
  5. Arizona state lawmakers passed a law that repeals the Civil War-era ban on nearly all abortions. Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) is expected to sign the bill. (The vote)

Today's topic.

Reclassifying marijuana. On Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland submitted a proposal for a White House review to reclassify cannabis as a less dangerous controlled substance, moving it from a Schedule I drug to Schedule III

The reclassification would not legalize cannabis for recreational use, but would allow for the drug to be prescribed and serve as recognition that it has less potential for abuse than some of the most dangerous drugs in the U.S. Since the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, the government has defined Schedule I drugs as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, classifying cannabis with drugs like heroin and LSD in the most dangerous group of controlled substances. Schedule III drugs, like anabolic steroids and ketamine, can be prescribed for medical use, but they are still controlled substances that the government recognizes have a potential for abuse and cannot be trafficked across state lines or used recreationally.

Initially, the push to tolerate the drug’s usage was a fringe issue on the left, but bipartisan interest in legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana has grown over recent years. 38 states have legalized marijuana for medical use while 24 have legalized it for recreational use over the past decade. The industry is estimated to be worth $30 billion, and classifying cannabis as a Schedule III drug could ease the tax burden on businesses while making it easier to research and cultivate. 

The reclassification does not take effect immediately; instead, the White House recommendation will kick off a lengthy review process. 

In 2022, President Biden pardoned thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and called upon regulators to review the drug for reclassification, saying “it doesn’t make sense” that the government controls marijuana more tightly than Schedule II drugs like cocaine or fentanyl.  

“Even as federal and state regulation of marijuana changes, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and under-age sales should stay in place,” Biden said. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

Many skeptics oppose the change, citing the Obama administration’s decision not to reschedule the drug after a 2016 review. In March, Republican Senators Mitt Romney (UT), Jim Risch (ID), and Pete Ricketts (NE) signed a letter urging the Drug Enforcement Agency not to reclassify marijuana.

“Just last month, researchers found that daily marijuana use is associated with a 25% increase in the risk of heart attack and a 42% increase in the risk of stroke,” they said. “Other studies have linked marijuana use with serious psychotic consequences, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.”

Critics also question whether the Biden administration is making the move in the interest of public health, noting the political popularity of the measure among younger voters at a time when the president trails former president Donald Trump in the polls. 70% of Americans supported legalizing marijuana in a 2023 Gallup poll, a record high. 

Below, we get into the responses to marijuana reclassification from the right and left, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right mostly opposes the move, arguing it will degrade public health. 
  • Some suggest the reclassification is only happening to help business interests.
  • Others support the change and say the government should fully decriminalize cannabis possession. 

In Newsweek, Jake Novak said “marijuana's reclassification is wrong.”

“America has recently been feeling the ill effects of one of the biggest ‘bait and switch’ scams in our history. That is, the packaging of new marijuana laws as if they were just about decriminalization, when they have really been about the government taking an active role in marketing a drug it once severely restricted,” Novak wrote. “Actual public health is clearly not much of a consideration in this move, because the relaxation of marijuana restrictions has already caused some serious health care complications.”

“There's something else at play here as well that's just as disturbing as the public health dangers and economic letdowns associated with state sanctioned and promoted marijuana businesses and use. You'd have to be blind not to notice the extreme cynicism and low bars set for society by a government that seems to think the best way to placate voters is to give them legal pot, legal sports betting, and universal basic income. Somewhere along the line, our politicians and even top private industry leaders have abandoned any semblance of promoting an aspirational society. It's the Roman ‘bread and circuses’ again.”

In City Journal, Charles Fain Lehman wrote “big business stands to gain the most from the change of marijuana’s legal status.”

“While legalization supporters have cheered the change, its impact will be slight. The primary beneficiaries will be states’ legal marijuana businesses, which will see up to $2 billion in tax relief. In its haste to appease the pro-marijuana base, the administration has done nothing to advance the justice it claims to believe in and everything to advance the interests of big business,” Lehman said. “Marijuana will remain about as legally controlled as it was before rescheduling.”

“Rescheduling would be a major boon to an industry that has struggled to get off the ground, and marijuana stocks surged on news of the DEA’s move. The law currently imposes often-substantial tax burdens on state marijuana businesses,” Lehman wrote. “No one should be confused by what the change means. The Biden administration is trying to sell its marijuana policy as part of a broader racial and social justice agenda, but what rescheduling really means is more money in the pockets of drug peddlers. That’s nothing to cheer about.”

For The Cato Institute, Jeffrey A. Singer argued “beer, wine, whiskey, cigars, and cigarettes are not on the DEA’s list of controlled substances. Neither should cannabis be.”

“The good news is that the federal cops practicing medicine—the DEA—finally recognize that cannabis has medicinal uses. Rescheduling should make it easier for patients to obtain the drug with a prescription in the states that have not yet legalized medicinal cannabis,” Singer said. “The bad news is that it is still federally illegal for people to use cannabis recreationally. With rescheduling, the only way people will be federally permitted to purchase and consume cannabis will be if a health care practitioner prescribes it to them.”

“Tobacco has no currently known medicinal use but many known harmful effects. And, while relatively harmless, the nicotine in tobacco smoke can addict smokers and expose them to tobacco smoke’s harmful components. Yet the DEA has never listed cigars or cigarettes on its schedule of controlled substances,” Singer wrote. “I am not arguing for the DEA to add alcohol and tobacco to its list of controlled substances. On the contrary, I am calling for the DEA to remove a much less harmful—and more medicinally useful—product from that list.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left supports reclassifying cannabis and hopes it foreshadows a broader federal decriminalization push. 
  • Some suggest the move could be a political win for Biden and Democrats. 
  • Others worry that cannabis laws will continue to be unevenly enforced across the country. 

The Los Angeles Times editorial board called the move “a welcome step” toward decriminalization.

“That the Justice Department plans to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug is most welcome. But very, very late in coming,” the board wrote. “It’s still far too little. Americans have scoffed at marijuana prohibitions for decades, recognizing the race and class bigotry inherent in targeting the plant, and the scary nonsense spouted by government-promoted ‘experts’ about its supposedly demonic consequences (‘Reefer Madness’!) including, ostensibly, rape, kidnapping and murder.”

“Federal law lags woefully behind [state laws], technically subjecting users to criminal prosecution and jail, and preventing producers and sellers from fully participating in the federally regulated banking system. Reclassifying cannabis, as recommended months ago by the Department of Health and Human Services, won’t remove its criminal status but it could pave the way for Congress to act. In any free society, respect for law and the justice system is essential — and is undermined by outdated prohibitions and punishment that strike a large swath of citizens as random and groundless.”

In MSNBC, Zeeshan Aleem wrote “the Biden administration is doing the rarest of things: rational drug policy.”

“It’s a rare moment of rational drug policy at the federal level, and it should help pave the path for safer, more informed marijuana use. It speaks to how much attitudes toward marijuana have changed in the U.S. in recent years and could be a political win for Biden,” Aleem said. “The restrictions were justified in part by the absurd circular reasoning of Schedule I classification: since marijuana is officially deemed medically useless, the high regulatory bar for research has blocked the capacity of scientists to ascertain many of its medical benefits.

“Given that marijuana has already been legalized or made available for medical purposes in many states, we desperately need more science-backed information about safe usage, short-term risks and long-term risks as legalization increases usage,” Aleem wrote. “Some 20 years ago, a Democratic president rescheduling marijuana would’ve been received as a radical policy decision… Today, the rescheduling of marijuana looks overdue and reasonable — and likely constitutes a minor political win.”

In Newsweek, Matthew Gault said reclassification is “not enough.”

“The rescheduling is good, but I worry that the few Red states where weed remains forbidden will double down on failing policies. I worry that marijuana will become another wedge issue, like abortion, used by conservative lawmakers to play to their base and harm their public,” Gault wrote. “The widespread effect of rescheduling marijuana will not be evenly distributed. Most Blue states are already enjoying the benefits of pot decriminalization. Thirty-eight states have some form of medical marijuana policy and 24 allow you to smoke recreationally.”

“The rescheduling will, hopefully, lower the frequency of DEA raids and allow marijuana to finally stop being an all-cash business. By now, the problems of the War on Drugs broadly and the criminalization of marijuana specifically are widespread and well known. Making it legal and safe for adults to smoke weed is overwhelmingly popular with the American public and most people don't want the cops wasting time busting people for smoking.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • Rescheduling cannabis allows us to do more research on the effects of habitual use, an issue that concerns me.
  • Marijuana has gotten more potent, and I’m also worried that the government and our culture have gotten too permissive about its casual usage.
  • Ultimately though, decriminalizing cannabis now and treating it more like alcohol or tobacco over time makes the most sense to me. 

Let me start with a personal point: I was a habitual cannabis user for most of my early 20s.

I smoked pot basically every day, and as I've confessed in the past, I even spent two semesters in college selling weed for extra cash. I was young, dumb, arrogant, and stoned enough that I didn't realize what I was actually risking at the time. I was very lucky not to go to jail, which allowed me to realize I was a worse version of myself when I spent part of every day being high.

Having been on both sides of cannabis use, I've come to view the legalization of weed much more skeptically than I used to. I wrote about this for Tangle a few years ago, but the gist of my position is this: Nobody should ever go to jail for using marijuana, and pot should be decriminalized nationwide right now. But recreational legalization genuinely worries me. Based on what we do know about cannabis, about 10-30% of users become addicted, roughly four million people had a use disorder in 2015, and the average potency of today's cannabis products is more than three times higher than it was in 1995. As the saying goes, this isn't your parents' weed anymore.

But what really concerns me is what we don't know. Research is still sparse compared to alcohol or tobacco (largely because cannabis is a Schedule I drug, as Zeeshan Aleem said under “What the left is saying”), but several studies have linked marijuana use to schizophrenia, depression and other psychiatric disorders, especially when heavy use begins while the brain is still developing (up to the age of 25). And when regular users stop using, these studies have observed classic "withdrawal" symptoms like irritability, mood swings, anxiety, decreased appetite, restlessness, and sleep disturbances.

All this is to say: I think fully legalizing cannabis will lead to more people using it, which will open a Pandora's box of other problems that we might not be prepared for given just how often most of the country downplays or laughs off the risks of cannabis use.

I was also moved by Jake Novak's piece (under "What the right is saying"), in particular this line: "You'd have to be blind not to notice the extreme cynicism and low bars set for society by a government that seems to think the best way to placate voters is to give them legal pot, legal sports betting, and universal basic income." That sentiment rings true, even if Novak is reaching a bit. Some candidates have campaigned on UBI, but the government isn’t doling cash out yet. And it’s not as if Americans are lazily rotting away — if anything, most of us are overworked and underpaid. But I think he’s onto something. I can't quite put my finger on why, but the idea that we are just giving in to the vices of society does resonate with me.

Yet on the whole, I'm willing to say that I think this is a good change. More than anything else, our drug policy needs to be tied to reality, and the fact that cannabis has been scheduled as a drug similar to LSD or heroin for this long — while alcohol and tobacco are unscheduled — is confounding, frustrating, and deeply silly.

Changing the schedule of cannabis will allow us to research the drug more (something I think needs to happen), further cements reduced criminal enforcement against users (which should have happened a long time ago), and continues to destigmatize it in a way that levels it with alcohol and tobacco (which seems imminently rational). I think all of that is necessary, and would be a big step in the right direction.

Simultaneously, just rescheduling marijuana not be a big deal at all. Jeffrey Singer of the Cato Institute (under "What the right is saying") made the point cogently, arguing that the only thing that would actually constitute a major policy change is descheduling and fully legalizing marijuana. I interviewed Singer for today's Tangle podcast, and he offered this counter to my fears about the possible health risks of societally normalized cannabis: We could apply that same argument to crack down on alcohol right now; but we know how alcohol prohibition went. And he's right. Generally speaking, we should always be skeptical of strict government regulations or prohibitions.

I still have reservations about just how safe cannabis is, and whenever it does become fully legal (which I think it will) I suspect we are going to see some unintended consequences. But it’s long been absurd to treat it any differently than alcohol and tobacco, to throw people in jail for it, or to hamstring the entire industry and medical research by treating weed like it's heroin. So Biden is right to pursue this change and, given the public support for legalization, he’s also representing the will of the vast majority of Americans. 

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Your questions, answered.

Q: I see “professional protest instigators” being involved in the riots (errr, protests) at Columbia University, egging-on and encouraging student and non-student protestors, and I wonder what benefit it is to that “professional” to incite these riots? Who benefits from the trouble they are causing, and who is financing their salaries?

— Bob from Point Blank, TX

Tangle: The idea behind “protests instigators” is that individuals opposed to what protestors are rallying for pay or recruit people to join the fray, escalating violence and giving the protestors a bad image. In this instance, the most ardently pro-Israel people would be paying agitators to join pro-Palestinian protests to make them appear less organized and more violent.

Ironically, once caught, those infiltrators end up making their own movements look worse.

So that’s the general idea. But “protest instigators” or “professional agitators” or whatever you want to call them, are usually not the ones most responsible for what happens at mass protests. A lot of the people who by and large side with those who were a part of well known protests that turned violent — the Charlottesville rally, the George Floyd protests, January 6th, and the current campus protests — excuse the worst actions of the most fringe elements of their own political movements by blaming bad-faith instigators. It is possible that some people you agree with just go too far.

That doesn’t mean that professional agitators aren’t real, or that they aren’t showing up at any of those events. For instance, we know that there were FBI informants at the capitol on January 6th. Again, they weren’t responsible for most of the damage done, but they were there. The same is true with antifa (or “anti-fascist”) protestors in Charlottesville and white supremacists in the George Floyd protests.

And the same thing appears to be true with campus protestors. An anti-anti-semitism organization offered to pay people to infiltrate the protests at Columbia, though I haven’t seen any proof that pro-Israel activists are causing a disruption there. At UCLA, though, there are videos of pro-Israel protestors throwing fireworks into encampments and beating pro-Palestine protestors with sticks. Again: We don’t know whether these people were paid or not, and this isn’t the same as an agitator being inside the pro-Palestine movement to make them look bad, but there are troubling signs of escalation. And of course, a Jewish organization paying people to infiltrate a pro-Palestinian protest only serves to make people who are sympathetic to Israelis look worse, and frankly feeds into the worst kind of antisemitic tropes — but I digress.

Conversely, it seems worth noting there are also professional “protest consultants” showing up at campus protests, which New York City Mayor Eric Adams recently warned about.

All of this is why I warned people last week to be discerning about these campus protests and what exactly they were seeing in videos. 

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

Former President Donald Trump has made a major reversal, imploring Republican voters to vote early, by mail, and via absentee ballots. Trump has long railed against any early or mail-in voting, insisting it was "totally corrupt" as recently as two months ago. But now Republicans are ramping up state-level efforts to encourage early voting. "ABSENTEE VOTING, EARLY VOTING, AND ELECTION DAY VOTING ARE ALL GOOD OPTIONS," Trump posted on Truth Social this week. "REPUBLICANS MUST MAKE A PLAN, REGISTER, AND VOTE!" Axios has the story.


  • 2,800 BCE. The first documented case of cannabis use, listed in the Emperor Shen Nung's pharmacopeia.
  • 32%. The percentage of U.S. adults who say cannabis should be legal for medical use only, according to Pew Research.
  • 57%. The percentage of U.S. adults who say cannabis should be legal for medical and recreational use.
  • 12%. The percentage of U.S. adults who thought cannabis use should be legal in 1969, according to Gallup.
  • 48.2 million. The number of people in the U.S. who used cannabis at least once in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • 166%. The percent increase in drug trafficking arrests related to cannabis at Los Angeles International Airport in 2019, the year after California legalized the recreational use of cannabis.
  • $1.8 billion. The approximate amount that state-legal cannabis companies paid in excess taxes specific to Schedule I and II drugs in 2022, according to Whitney Economics.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we wrote about the Supreme Court ethics bill.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday’s newsletter was our “Have a nice day” story about the daring highway rescue.
  • Nothing to do with politics: The bee guy who removed a hive from an MLB game got to throw out the first pitch.
  • Yesterday’s survey: 610 readers answered our survey on the new Title IX rules with 52% opposing both the sexual assault and LGBTQ discrimination rules. “Bad question — it’s not that one supports or doesn’t support this, it is whether they support the specifics of the proposal. I do not, but overall I support the protection of anyone being bullied or harassed. But this law is a step back and ignited the toxic culture wars,.” one respondent said.

Looking for our survey link? We’ve moved it to follow “My take,” where it will live from now on.

Have a nice day.

In a turn of bad luck, a truck transporting 102,000 young salmon to a hatchery in Oregon overturned on the road and the giant fish tank it was carrying burst open. In an almost unbelievable turn of good luck, however, the large majority of the small fries rode the wave of water out of the tank into Lookingglass Creek, the waterway which connects with the hatchery they were traveling to. Good News Network has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.