The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is in charge of classifying various drugs and enforcing the laws that govern the classifications given. Since the ‘70s, cannabis has held a Schedule I classification, placing it alongside heroin and LSD. Nixon’s drug task force recommended to the administration that marijuana not be given a classification due to the fact that they rendered it harmless. The Nixon administration however, decided to make it a Schedule I substance, a decision that many believe is connected to a law that allowed law enforcement to disproportionately target minority groups and war protesters. The main 3 components that qualify a substance for a Schedule I classification are; that it be highly addictive with a high probability for abuse, unable to be tested on human subjects and have no medicinal use.
The Medical Benefits of Marijuana
29 states across the U.S. have legalized the plant for medicinal use and there are countless studies on marijuana done across the world using human subjects. In states that have legalized marijuana, opioid related hospital visits are down by approximately 23 percent and the plant seems to be able to treat opioid addiction in general. It has been found to have a very low case of addiction and is safer and healthier than cigarettes and alcohol, including its effect on motorists. Drivers under the influence of cannabis have been found to be safer than drivers under the influence of alcohol.
The Failed Promise of Loosened Testing Restrictions
With all these clearly documented facts about the plant, a demand has been placed on the DEA to reschedule or deschedule cannabis altogether. Last August, the DEA shared that, while they would not reschedule or deschedule the plant, they would allow medical testing to occur. Government approved testing on the plant proving its medicinal value would then allow the DEA to reclassify the plant. Protocols were set up defining an approved process for conducting the government approved tests and those willing to jump through the many hoops involved would be able to move forward with cannabis research.
A Rift Between the DEA and the Justice Department
Unfortunately, the Trump administration has blocked this progress. The Justice Department, under the leadership of long time, loud and proud prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions has prevented over 2 dozen requests to cultivate medical marijuana for scientific studies. According to The Washington Post, the Justice Department has effectively blocked the program from being able to move forward in any capacity, ensuring that there is no way to reclassify cannabis.
Black Market Activity
While cannabis continues to remain illegal, its domain falls under the rulership of the black market. This is not unlike the organized crime that thrived during alcohol prohibition. “Mexican cartels, Mexican transnational organizations are the greatest criminal threat to the United States,” says Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the DEA. “There’s no other group currently positioned to challenge them. Whenever drug investigations that we do involve MS-13, we respond, but right now the No. 1 drug threat in the U.S. is the Mexican cartels.’’
Several bipartisan bills currently exists that seek to reschedule or deschedule cannabis. With enough public pressure on the issue, forward momentum seems inevitable, even if this standoff continues for now.