Rescheduling - The Medical Marijuana Solution


The Obama Administration is reviewing marijuana’s status under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in order to determine if there are grounds for removing cannabis from Schedule I (the list of prohibited drugs).


The Administration is responding to a petition filed by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) in 2002 presenting evidence that marijuana has an accepted medical use in the United States, is safe for use under medical supervision, and has a lower potential for abuse than other Schedule I drugs such as heroin. By law, recognizing these characteristics requires the government to effectively end marijuana prohibition by moving cannabis into a different classification under the CSA in recognition of its accepted medical use and lower abuse potential.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have reviewed the CRC petition in a lengthy process required by the CSA in which all relevant scientific and medical evidence is considered. The last step of the lengthy rescheduling process requires the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to evaluate the review provided by the FDA and HHS, consider all other relevant information, and make a final decision on the CRC petition.


The CRC was organized by this author and contains several medical marijuana advocacy groups, including the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) , California NORML, the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, HIGH TIMES, Iowans for Medical Marijuana, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), New Mexicans for Compassionate Use, Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, and Patients Out of Time.


There are several reasons why the Obama Administration might decide to reschedule cannabis.


First of all, under the law, scientific evidence requires it.


Even when the CSA was passed by Congress it was acknowledged that marijuana did not have the high potential for abuse required to be a Schedule I or a Schedule II drug. These schedules require the strictest regulatory control under law and are reserved for drugs that have the greatest dependence liabilities, in other words the most addictive drugs controlled by the CSA such as heroin and cocaine. Congress recognized in 1972 that marijuana did not have the severe dependence liability that was required for Schedule I status, but at that time they were planning on a national commission to study marijuana and they decided to place cannabis in Schedule I pending the review and recommendations by The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. This commission, also known as the Nixon Commission, eventually recommended marijuana’s decriminalization. Nonetheless, no president has acted to remove marijuana from Schedule I, despite previous attempts, first by NORML and second by this author, to force rescheduling by way of administrative petitions and related court action.


The case for rescheduling marijuana has been strengthened by several recent developments. Fourteen states now recognize marijuana’s medical use. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has also recognized that marijuana is used medically under these state laws and directed the DEA and US Attorneys not to prosecute individuals for such use in these states. In addition the reclassification of marijuana under the CSA is now supported by the American Medical Association. The Iowa Pharmacy Board, using the same criteria as the CSA, has recommended rescheduling of marijuana under state law. Furthermore, recent studies by the California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research have documented marijuana’s effectiveness in treating a variety of ailments.


But there are also policy arguments that support rescheduling. There is currently a gap between federal and state laws regarding medical marijuana, and rescheduling would begin a process of closing it. Also, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has recommended further study of marijuana’s medical properties in n=1 studies, studies of single patients, and rescheduling will make such efforts easier to organize and implement. Rescheduling will also reduce the development costs for cannabinoid drugs that will amplify and therapeutic benefits of cannabis beyond those that can be obtained through smoking or vaporizing marijuana.


The White House needs to know there is public support for continuing to reform the medical marijuana laws in this country, especially at the federal level. Send the Obama Administration an email and let them know you think rescheduling would be beneficial to our country and that it has your support. But that’s not all you can do. Send this column to your friends, and ask them to also contact the Obama Administration about rescheduling marijuana at the federal level.


When the DEA makes a final decision there will be further opportunities for public comment and, if necessary, legal action. But why not let your voice be heard now, when it can most make a difference. Rescheduling marijuana out of Schedule I is long overdue. Contact the White House today and encourage the President and his administration to take this constructive step and recognize marijuana’s growing acceptance as a therapeutic substance in the United States. 


Jon Gettman is a long time contributor to HIGH TIMES. A former National Director of NORML, Jon has a Ph.D. in public policy and regional economic development and consults with attorneys, advocates, and non-profits on cannabis related research and public policy issues. On October 8, 2002, along with a coalition of organizations, he filed a new petition to have cannabis rescheduled under federal law. This column will track that petition's progress.