Editor’s note: Ngaio Bealum writes on medical (and, well, not-so-medical) marijuana issues, and his column will be appearing weekly at 48hills.org. You can post questions in the comments section and he’ll try to answer them in future columns.
Hi, Ngaio. Did I hear that right? Could The Department of Justice really reschedule marijuana? I thought you needed an act of Congress…
You heard it right.
According to the Controlled Substances Act, the US Attorney General has the power to “remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule.”
The DEA has marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug, and according the agency, “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”
Classifying weed as a Schedule 1 drug is hogwash. We all know that marijuana has been used as a medicine for hundreds of years. We also know that marijuana is less addictive than alcohol, nicotine or caffeine. There is no reason for marijuana to be classified in the same category as heroin, methaqualone (quaaludes, for all the old-timers out there), LSD, MDMA, and peyote. I would even make an argument for peyote and MDMA(ecstasy) being removed from the schedule as well, but that’s a discussion for a different column. Using the DEA’s own definition, it’s clear that marijuana doesn’t belong in the Schedule 1 class and should be rescheduled or even removed from the drug list completely.
And if Attorney General Eric Holder has the power to do it, why hasn’t he done it already?
There are a few reasons: Changing marijuana’s status on the drug schedule would not make weed legal. There are way too many federal and state laws that explicitly ban cannabis.
It would also open up a political shitstorm. All the drug prohibitionists will start with the wailing and the screaming and the gnashing of the teeth, and why would AG Eric “Fast and Furious” Holder want to go through that?
So why should Holder make the bold move of rescheduling marijuana? Because science. Right now, it is virtually impossible for American scientists to do any research on the medicinal uses of cannabis. Every time someone proposes a study, the DEA argues against it. And even when scientists manage to get an experiment approved, they have to talk the NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) into giving them cannabis to use for the experiment, since the NIDA is the only agency authorized to grow cannabis for research. The NIDA hates marijuana, and grows terrible weed. They also hardly ever let anyone do cannabis research, unless the research is an attempt to show how harmful marijuana is. It’s a big ol’ loop of governmental BS.
But who knows what may happen? Recently, Holder has let it be known that he is willing to talk to Congress about rescheduling pot. This comes on the hills of several Congressmembers from Washington and Colorado asking for the DOJ to take a fresh look at marijuana’s status in the drug schedule. I still feel like the Obama administration will take even more steps toward legalizing weed by the end of 2016, but to make sure it happens, we have to keep the pressure on our politicians to wake up and do the right thing.