By mid-year the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plans to reconsider marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I narcotic. In an April letter to several U.S senators, federal officials wrote that they hope to reach a “final determination” on rescheduling the drug – a decision that could be a defining moment for those involved in the legal marijuana industry. Schedule I is the most restrictive of the five ranks issued by the DEA. It is reserved for substances that have the highest potential for abuse and “no currently accepted medical use in the United States”. Graded alongside heroine and LSD, the DEA considers pot a dangerous drug with zero medicinal value.
The rescheduling of cannabis is necessary for a whole host of reasons. For starters, the current schedule I status of marijuana is out of touch with public opinion, scientific research, and state law. It has pitted federal authorities against states that have legalized medical marijuana. The schedule has prompted raids on growers and dispensaries that appear to be operating legally under state law. Seemingly endless bureaucratic hurdles discourage universities, hospitals, and individuals who wish to study marijuana. Most medical research of pot is prohibited. Further, schedule 1 is the only rank of drug that may not be prescribed by a physician under any circumstances under federal law. The denial of cannabis’s legitimacy as a therapeutic substance adversely effects tens of thousands of patients who could be utilizing it. Substances in schedules II and below are still subject to varying degrees of control, but unlike schedule I they benefit from medical recognition, research, testing, and safe manufacture.
People are increasingly skeptical of marijuana’s schedule – but the drug still remains very much illegal under federal law. The DEA has rejected petitions to reschedule cannabis 3 separate times. This is a not only a huge inconvenience for the budding and rapidly expanding marijuana industry, but federal regulation is also hindering much needed clinical testing. The DEA’s impending decision offers a glimmer of hope. Rescheduling certainly will not solve all of the marijuana industry’s problems – but it is a step in the right direction.