(CNN) – A group of lawmakers are pushing President Barack Obama to remove marijuana from its classification as a dangerous narcotic.
The federal government places pot in the same category as heroin and ecstasy as a schedule 1 controlled substance – a drug with high potential for abuse but no accepted medical use.
In a letter, signed on Wednesday by 17 Democrats and one Republican, to the President, lawmakers cite Obama's recent comments that he sees smoking marijuana as no more dangerous than drinking alcohol.
"As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol," Obama recently told The New Yorker.
The lawmakers said marijuana's current classification "makes no sense," pointing to wasted law enforcement resources under "harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws."
"You said that you don't believe marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol: a fully legalized substance, and believe it to be less dangerous 'in terms of impact on the individual consumer.' This is true," the letter says.
"Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, the strictest classification, along with heroin and LSD. This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs."
Voters in two states, Colorado and Washington, opted last November through ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana use. Another 18, along with the District of Columbia, allow some legal pot use, primarily for medicinal purposes.
The federal government said it would not challenge state laws legalizing marijuana. The President told The New Yorker it was important for those states' laws to move forward, calling them "experiments," but the White House has said the President remains opposed to a nationwide decriminalization of marijuana.
Attorney General Eric Holder can remove marijuana from its classification after an independent scientific review. But Holder has said that his preference was for Congress to act, underscoring that federal enforcement effort would focus on preventing marijuana use in minors.
"What is and isn't a Schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress," Obama said in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper.
Holder also said recently that local business selling marijuana should have access to the American banking system, and that Justice Department is working with the Treasury to come up with rules providing an avenue for banks to handle legal revenue.