Schedule I

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 31, 2016

    marijuana_gavelJustices for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled in favor of a 1968 federal law prohibiting the sale of firearms to any “unlawful user” of a federally controlled substance.

    Justices determined that state-registered medical marijuana patients are forbidden from purchasing firearms because cannabis remains classified as a Schedule I substance under federal law. They further opined that the ban “furthers the Government’s interest in preventing gun violence” because marijuana users “are more likely to be involved in violent crimes.”

    They concluded, “[The plaintiff in this case] does not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in simultaneously holding a [medical cannabis] registry card and purchasing a firearm.”

    In 2011, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms issued a memorandum to all gun dealers in the United States specifying, “Any person who uses … marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, and is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”

    In response to today’s court ruling, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “There is no credible justification for a ‘marijuana exception’ to the US Constitution. Responsible adults who use cannabis in a manner that is compliant with the laws of their states ought to receive the same legal rights and protections as do other citizens. It is incumbent that members of Congress act swiftly to amend cannabis’ criminal status in a way that comports with both public and scientific opinion, as well as its rapidly changing legal status under state laws.”

    The Ninth Circuit decision, Wilson v Lynch et al., is available online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 10, 2016

    imgresThe United States Drug Enforcement Administration has rejected a pair of administrative petitions that sought to initiate rulemaking proceedings to reschedule marijuana under federal law.

    Although the DEA’s ruling continues to classify marijuana in the same category as heroin, the agency also announced in a separate decision that it is adopting policy changes designed to expand the production of research-grade cannabis for FDA-approved clinical studies.

    Presently, any clinical trial involving cannabis must access source material cultivated at the University of Mississippi — a prohibition that is not in place for other controlled substances. Today, the agency announced for the first time that it will be seeking applications from multiple parties, including potentially from private entities, to produce marijuana for FDA-approved research protocols as well as for “commercial product development.” This change was initially recommended by the DEA’s own administrative law judge in 2007, but her decision was ultimately rejected by the agency in 2011.

    Below is a statement from NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano regarding the DEA’s decisions:

    For far too long, federal regulations have made clinical investigations involving cannabis needlessly onerous and have placed unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on marijuana that do not exist for other controlled substances, including some other schedule I controlled substances.

    While this announcement is a significant step toward better facilitating and expanding clinical investigations into cannabis’ therapeutic efficacy, ample scientific evidence already exists to remove cannabis from its schedule I classification and to acknowledge its relative safety compared to other scheduled substances, like opioids, and unscheduled substances, such as alcohol. Ultimately, the federal government ought to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act altogether in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal intrusion.

    Since the DEA has failed to take such action, then it is incumbent that members of Congress act swiftly to amend cannabis’ criminal status in a way that comports with both public and scientific opinion. Failure to do so continues the federal government’s ‘Flat Earth’ position; it willfully ignores the well-established therapeutic properties associated with the plant and it ignores the laws in 26 states recognizing marijuana’s therapeutic efficacy.

    Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the cannabis plant and its organic cannabinoids are classified as Schedule I prohibited substances — the most restrictive category available under the law. By definition, substances in this category must meet three specific inclusion criteria:

    The substance must possess “a high potential for abuse”; it must have “no currently accepted medical use” in the United States; and, the substance must lack “accepted safety for use … under medical supervision.”

    Substances that do not meet these criteria must, by law, be categorized in less restrictive federal schedules (Schedules II through V) and are legally regulated accordingly. Alcohol and tobacco, two substances widely acknowledged to possess far greater dangers to health than does cannabis, are not classified under the Controlled Substances Act.

    A recent review of FDA-approved clinical studies evaluating the safety and efficacy of herbal cannabis concluded: “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that Information on safety is lacking.”

    Added Armentano: “The DEA’s decision is strictly a political one. There is nothing scientific about willful ignorance.”

    The DEA has previously rejected several other rescheduling petitions, including a 2002 petition filed by a coalition of marijuana law reform and health advocacy organizations, and a 1972 petition filed by NORML. The petitions that triggered this latest DEA action were filed in 2009 by a nurse practitioner and in 2011 by then-Govs. Christine Gregoire of Washington and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 6, 2016

    personal_cultivationA recent memorandum from the US Drug Enforcement Administration to several United States Senators indicates that the agency is prepared to respond in the coming months to a five-year-old petition seeking to amend the plant’s status as a schedule I prohibited substance.

    Under the US Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the cannabis plant and its organic cannabinoids are classified as schedule I prohibited substances — the most restrictive category available under the law. As summarized by the DEA, “Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

    Explicitly, substances in this category must meet three specific inclusion criteria: The substance must possess “a high potential for abuse”; it must have “no currently accepted medical use” in the United States; and the substance must lack “accepted safety for use … under medical supervision.” Substances that do not meet these criteria must, by law, be categorized in less restrictive federal schedules (schedule II through schedule V) and are legally regulated accordingly. (For example, schedule II substances like morphine or methadone are available by prescription.) Alcohol and tobacco, two substances that possess far greater dangers to health than does cannabis, are not subject to federal classification under the CSA.

    Federal law grants power to the US Attorney General to reclassify a controlled substance if the available scientific evidence no longer supports that drug’s classification. In practice, however, this power has been delegated to the DEA, with input from both FDA and the US Department of Health and Human Services. Federal law also allows third parties to petition these agencies to consider reclassifying controlled substances.

    The petition now before the DEA was filed in 2011 by then-governors Christine Gregoire of Washington and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Other recent rescheduling petitions, such as a 2002 petition filed by a coalition of marijuana law reform and health advocacy organizations, have been rejected outright by the agency. In 1990, the DEA set aside the decision of its own administrative law judge, who had responded in 1988 to a petition effort initiated by NORML, after he called for reclassifying the plant.

    While it remains unknown at present time if the DEA will respond favorably to this current rescheduling effort, it has become apparent in recent years that reclassifying cannabis from schedule I to schedule II – the same category as cocaine – falls well short of the sort of federal reform necessary to reflect America’s emerging reefer reality. Specifically, reclassifying the pot plant from I to II (or even to schedule III) continues to misrepresent the plant’s safety relative to other controlled substances such as methamphetamine (schedule II), anabolic steroids (schedule III), or alcohol (unscheduled), and fails to provide states with the ability to fully regulate it free from federal interference.

    Further, the federal policies in place that make clinical trial work with cannabis more onerous than it is for other controlled substances — such as the requirement that all source material be purchased from NIDA’s University of Mississippi marijuana cultivation program — are regulatory requirements that are specific to cannabis, not to Schedule I drugs in general. Simply rescheduling cannabis from I to II does not necessarily change these regulations, at least in the short-term.

    In addition, the sort of gold-standard, large-scale, long-term Phase III safety and efficacy trials that are typically necessary prior to bringing therapeutic drugs to market are prohibitively expensive. As a result, trials of this kind are typically are funded by private pharmaceutical companies aspiring to bring a new product to market. In some cases, the federal government may assist in sharing these costs, such as was the case with the research and development of the synthetic THC pill Marinol (dronabinol). However, political reality dictates that neither entity is likely to pony up the tens of millions of dollars necessary to conduct such trials assessing the efficacy of herbal cannabis any time soon, if ever, regardless of the plant’s federal scheduling.

    This is not to say that rescheduling cannabis would not have any positive tangible effects. At a minimum, it would bring an end to the federal government’s longstanding intellectual dishonesty that marijuana ‘lacks accepted medical use.’ It would also likely permit banks and other financial institutions to work with state-compliant marijuana-related businesses, and permit employers in the cannabis industry to take tax deductions similar to those enjoyed by other businesses. Rescheduling would also likely bring some level of relief to federal employees subject to random workplace drug testing for off-the-job cannabis consumption.

    But ultimately, such a change would do little to significantly loosen federal prohibition or to make herbal cannabis readily accessible for clinical study. These goals can arguably only be accomplished by federally decsheduling cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, such as is proposed by US Senate Bill 2237, The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. Doing so will finally provide states the power to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal intrusion.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 29, 2015

    2015: The Year In Review - NORML's Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana Policy

    NORML reviews the top news stories of 2015.

    #1 Congress Reauthorizes Medical Marijuana Protections
    Members of Congress approved language in the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending bill that continues to limit the federal government from taking punitive action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting are in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states. The provisions reauthorize Section 538 of the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, which states, "None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent … states … from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

    #2 Federal Judge Upholds Marijuana’s Schedule I Status
    A federal judge in April rejected a motion challenging the constitutionality of cannabis’ classification as a Schedule I prohibited substance. "At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional," Judge Kimberly Mueller said from the bench. "But this is not the court and not the time." Judge Meuller had presided over five days of hearings in October 2014 in a challenge brought by members of the NORML Legal Committee.

    #3 Medical Cannabis Access Associated With Less Opioid Abuse
    States that permit qualified patients to access medical marijuana via dispensaries possess lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths, according to a study published in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan think-tank. The findings mirror those published in 2014 in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluding, "States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws."

    #4 DC Depenalizes Marijuana; Arrests Plummet
    Despite threats from members of Congress, District officials implemented voter-approved legislation earlier this year eliminating penalties associated with the possession and cultivation of personal use quantities of marijuana by adults. Following the law’s implementation, marijuana-related arrests in the nation’s capital fell 99 percent.

    #5 Marijuana Law Changes Don’t Change Youth Use, Attitudes
    Rates of youth marijuana use are unaffected by changing laws, according to data published in July in The American Journal of drug and Alcohol Abuse. Investigators evaluated trends in young people’s attitudes toward cannabis and their use of the substance during the years 2002 to 2013 – a time period where 14 states enacted laws legalizing the medical use of the plant, and two states approved its recreational use by adults. "Our results may suggest that recent changes in public policy, including the decriminalization, medicalization, and legalization of marijuana in cities and states across the country, have not resulted in more use or greater approval of marijuana use among younger adolescents," researchers reported.

    #6 Gallup Poll: More Americans Than Ever Say Marijuana Should Be Legal
    Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that "the use of marijuana should be made legal," according to nationwide survey data released in October by Gallup pollsters. The percentage ties the highest level of support ever reported by Gallup, which has been measuring Americans’ attitudes toward cannabis since the late 1960s. The percentage is more than twice the level of support reported in the mid-1990s.

    #7 Study: Marijuana Use Not Associated With Changes In Brain Morphology
    Marijuana use is not associated with structural changes in the brain, according to imaging data published in January in The Journal of Neuroscience. Investigators assessed brain morphology in both daily adult and adolescent cannabis users compared to non-users. They found "no statistically significant differences … between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest" after researchers controlled for participants’ use of alcohol. "[T]he results indicate that, when carefully controlling for alcohol use, gender, age, and other variables, there is no association between marijuana use and standard volumetric or shape measurements of subcortical structures," researchers reported.

    #8 Marijuana Consumers Less Likely To Be Obese, Suffer Diabetes Risk
    Those who consume cannabis are 50 percent less likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome as compared to those who do not, according to findings published in November in The American Journal of Medicine. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat, which are linked to increased risk of heart disease and adult onset diabetes, among other serious health consequences. The findings are similar to those of previous studies reporting that those who use cannabis are less likely to be obese or suffer from diabetes.

    #9 NHTSA: THC-Positive Drivers Don’t Possesses Elevated Crash Risk
    Drivers who test positive for the presence of THC in their blood are no more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes than are drug-free drivers, according to a case-control study released in February by the United States National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration. Authors reported that drivers who tested positive for the presence of THC possessed an unadjusted, elevated risk of accident of 25 percent (Odds Ratio=1.25) compared to controls (drivers who tested negative for any drug or alcohol). However, this elevated risk became insignificant (OR=1.05) after investigators adjusted for demographic variables, such as the drivers’ age and gender. The study is the largest of its kind ever conducted in the United States.

    #10 Legal Marijuana States Collect Over $200 Million In New Tax Revenue
    Taxes on the legal production and sale of cannabis in the states of Colorado and Washington have yielded over $200 million in new revenue since going into effect in 2014, according to calculations reported by The Huffington Post in September. Colorado collected more than $117 million dollars from marijuana sales while Washington collected over $83 million. Cannabis sales commenced in Oregon in on October 1, 2015 and have yet to begin in Alaska.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 29, 2015

    The director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Nora Volkow, believes that cannabidiol (CBD) – a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid – is “a safe drug with no addictive effects.” Volkow made the comments in an op-ed published by The Huffington Post.

    Volkow further acknowledged, “[P]reliminary data suggest that it may have therapeutic value for a number of medical conditions.”

    Preclinical studies have documented CBD to possess a variety of therapeutic activities, including anti-cancer properties, anti-diabetic properties, and bone-stimulating activity. Clinical and observational trials have documented the substance to possess anxiolytic, anti-psychotic, and anti-seizure activity in humans. Safety trials have further concluded the substance to be “safe and well tolerated” when administered to healthy subjects.

    To date, 15 states have enacted laws specifically permitting the possession of high-CBD formulated extracts for therapeutic purposes, primarily for the treatment of pediatric epilepsy.

    In a recent Time Magazine op-ed, Democrat Sen. Diane Feinstein (CA) and Republican Sen. Charles Grassley (IA) encouraged the Obama administration to “definitively determine if CBD has scientific and medical benefits,” and to “look at expanding compassionate access programs where possible, to benefit as many children as possible.”

    Under federal law, CBD — like cannabis — is defined as a Schedule I controlled substance with “a high potential for abuse … no currently accepted medical use, … [and] a lack of accepted safety for the use of the drug … under medical supervision.”

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