Here’s why that should change… and how
The Drug Enforcement Administration, as you’re probably aware, considers cannabis a Schedule I drug. This is defined as: “…drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Heroin and ecstasy also fall under the Schedule I category. While a harsh scheduling doesn’t necessarily mean these drugs are completely illegal, Schedule I drugs are also accompanied by strict federal regulation. This federal illegality conflicts with laws passed in several states but make implementing these laws more difficult. In addition, cannabis’ Schedule I status places a huge tax burden on individual dispensary owners. The scheduling also prevents federally funded physicians and hospitals from prescribing cannabis.
Decoding the Scheduling Process
Scheduling is more of a complicated process than just deciding that one drug is more dangerous than another. The Controlled Substance Act schedules any drug that may potentially be “abused.” According to this categorization, the higher the schedule, the less “potential for abuse.” Here’s a sample of some drugs currently scheduled by the DEA:
Schedule 1: marijuana, heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and magic mushrooms
Schedule 2: cocaine, meth, oxycodone, Adderall, Ritalin, and Vicodin
Schedule 3: Tylenol with codeine, ketamine, anabolic steroids, and testosterone
Schedule 4: Xanax, Soma, Darvocet, Valium, and Ambien
Schedule 5: Robitussin AC, Lomotil, Motofen, Lyrica, and Parepectolin
Many cannabis activists disagree with the DEA’s interpretation of the Controlled Substance Act. The Act, they argue, fails to define “abuse.” Furthermore, activists insist cannabis does have accepted medical use; thousands of medical dispensaries now operating across the country reflect this use. Both in the past and during the present, rescheduling or de-scheduling cannabis altogether is a priority for these activists.
Where Do We Go From Here?
So how can a drug be rescheduled? Legislative action offers one route to reschedule cannabis. Essentially, the DEA, the US Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) or the public initiate a petition for review. The DEA then requests the HHS to collect scientific and medical research in terms of the drug’s reschedule. Then, the HHS evaluates the drug based on eight factors. These factors include the potential for abuse, safety, and medical use. The HHS sends its recommendation to the DEA. Lastly, the DEA makes its final decision taking the HHS’ analysis into consideration. For instance, the DEA rescheduled hydrocodone in 2014 — from a schedule III to a schedule II — through this petitioning process.
Over the years, there have been multiple attempts to do so. The Attorney General can also decide to reschedule a drug, but we don’t think it’s likely that Jeff Sessions will have a sudden change of heart, despite many Republicans’ changing attitudes. The most recent petition, in 2016, was denied.
This is a classic catch-22 situation. While the DEA has repeatedly denied petitions based lack of U.S. research on cannabis, the harsh scheduling actually prevents many universities or hospitals from completing large-scale clinical trials. So the cycle continues: no research, no rescheduling. Interestingly, the University of Mississippi is the only public university in the country growing cannabis for research (and could technically be considered the only federally legal growing facility in the country). On a positive note, at least there is a university doing research. Cannabis has enjoyed more social acceptance. And even though this may not immediately translate into political favor, it is a step in the right direction.
What You Can Do Right Now
Currently, the World Health Organization is due to reconsider cannabis’ classification. WHO is asking member nations (including the United States) to submit feedback regarding cannabis. This is because the 40th Expert Committee on Drug Dependence convenes for a special session later this year. This session will analyze cannabis’ global use and medical viability. Cannabis also exists as a Schedule I drug internationally; this is an opportunity for the U.N. to reschedule cannabis. If the global tide shifts in favor of cannabis, it is likely to put pressure on the United States to also reconsider.
The FDA is collecting these comments, to submit to WHO, through April 23rd. Now is a fantastic opportunity to add your voice to thousands more who have benefitted from cannabis. Click HERE to submit your feedback!