For several years, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has delayed rescheduling marijuana. In a statement they released earlier this month, they have promised to reevaluate its classification some time mid-year which means that any time from now through summer a decision could be made that has vast repercussions for the cannabis industry.
The Realities of Prohibition
Currently marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug, meaning it is considered to be as dangerous as heroin, LSD, and MDMA. Schedule I drugs are said to have no medicinal value and have a high risk for abuse. With medical marijuana legal in 24 states, clearly no one actually believes this classification to be legitimate. Yet, the DEA has delayed changing it 3 times already, holding up the process for years. In the meantime, this makes it almost impossible to research marijuana for its medicinal benefits. There are many suffering from conditions that could easily receive treatment. Marijuana has up to 60 compounds that may have various medicinal applications but a lack of research has prevented adequate analysis and dosing.
The American Medical Association told ABC News “The Drug Enforcement Administration should work with other federal regulatory agencies to develop a special schedule for marijuana to facilitate study of its potential medical utility in prescription drug products. Current standards for approval of prescription drug products require rigorous scientific study. While studies related to a limited number of medical conditions have shown promise for new cannabinoid-based prescription products, the scope of rigorous research needs to be expanded to a broader range of medical conditions for such products.”
Petitioning the Re-Scheduling
Many parties have been petitioning the DEA to reschedule for some years now. The DEA as well as the U.S Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy finally announced that they would review the classification with the guidance of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) after receiving several letters from Senators last year. This included letters from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Masschusetts and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.
Gillibrand said in a statement recently, “For too long, Schedule I status for marijuana has been a barrier for necessary research and, as a result, countless Americans can’t get access to medicine they desperately need. It’s past due for the DEA to reconsider marijuana’s status. I am hopeful that antiquated ideology won’t continue to stand in the way of science and that the DEA will reschedule marijuana to Schedule II.”
The Cannabis Industry Benefits from Research
Many are happy to simply have marijuana brought down to a Schedule II drug, alongside other prescription drugs such as Ritalin, Adderal, and Oxycodone, although thousands of people die every year from prescription drugs and suffer from debilitating side effects and physical, bodily addiction to the drugs. Marijuana has never been linked to an incident of death and is not physically addictive. As a medication it is almost incomparably safer to use than prescription drugs. But a change to Schedule II would open the gate for more research to be done, and in time a possible declassification altogether.
Crime and Risk Reduction
Any movement toward decriminalization and legalization is considered a positive move. So many people have had their lives ruined with misdemeanors on their record or imprisonment over having a plant that is arguably healthier and safer than both alcohol and cigarettes. Another factor is that the cannabis industry cannot have legal access to banks; in particular federal banks. This increases the risk of theft for this billion dollar industry and also puts taxation offices at risk during tax times, when businesses have to transport trucks of cash to their nearest taxation office.
For these reasons Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer wrote in a statement, “Rescheduling marijuana could be regarded as a step in the right direction, but it isn’t enough. Anything less than descheduling will only continue to trap marijuana businesses between state and federal laws. It’s unfair and wrong. To provide the necessary certainty marijuana businesses need, marijuana should be removed from the schedule altogether.”
We will soon know what the DEA decides, supposing they keep their word and announce their news to the public and cannabis industry mid-year. Any step towards decriminalization, legalization, and more medical research will be a step in the right direction.