It Is Time To Deschedule, Not Reschedule, Cannabis

  • 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.

    52 responses to “It Is Time To Deschedule, Not Reschedule, Cannabis”

    1. DR says:

      It’s so much safer than alcohol and tobacco and so many people already pax taxes on those. It should be descheduled.

      • Just Saying says:

        Thank you Captain Obvious. Food for thought about safely. These honest businesses need a way to safely pay their expenses.

        “How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured…No one knows, when he places a marijuana cigarette to his lips, whether he will become a joyous reveller in a musical heaven, a mad insensate, a calm philosopher, or a murderer…” Harry J. Anslinger { Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner until 1962}

        WoW…. Just Saying

      • Reggiec says:

        Alcohol and tobacco combined, neither of which are included in the drug schedules, cause 490,000 more deaths a year than does the use of cannabis.

        Number of American deaths PER YEAR that result directly or primarily from the following selected causes nationwide, per World Almanacs, Life Insurance Actuarial (death) Rates, and the last 20 years of U.S. Surgeon Generals’ reports.
        TOBACCO – 340,000 to 450,000
        ALCOHOL (Not including 50% of all highway deaths and 65% of all murders) – 150,000+
        ASPIRIN (Including deliberate overdose) – 180 to 1,000+
        CAFFEINE (From stress, ulcers, and triggering irregular heartbeats, etc.) – 1,000 to 10,000
        “LEGAL” DRUG OVERDOSE (Deliberate or accidental) from legal, prescribed or patent medicines and/or mixing with alcohol – e.g. Valium/alcohol – 14,000 to 27,000
        ILLICIT DRUG OVERDOSE – (Deliberate or accidental) from all illegal drugs – 3,800 to 5,200
        MARIJUANA – 0

        Prescriptions for pain medication in states that have approved medical cannabis have dropped 20%. The “legal” drug companies hate this. Overdose deaths from opioids have dropped 25% in states that have medical cannabis.
        The anti-cannabis lobby will do all they possibly can to hide the above information.

    2. TheOracle says:

      Well, all I have to say to the DEA is “fuck you!” I want cannabis completely de-scheduled immediately after this upcoming UN palaver. I want cannabis completely de-scheduled in the US. Yes, by all means, DEA, go ahead and de-schedule it bureaucratically. It’s be a baby step for the feds instead of one giant step for the DEA to de-schedule it completely. Your next step is to take the next baby step and remove cannabis from the schedule altogether.

      I deeply mistrust the DEA. This letter appears to me to be a PSYOPS ploy to have the cannabis community let down its guard and think we can coast on the successes the rest of the way to legalization. Step on the gas! Pedal to the floor!

      I noticed that the video for that Grassley committee shit is over an hour long. I’m slaving away at my crummy job, and all that crap that came up in his little committee meeting has to be refuted. The prohibitionist politicians will get a few days in the news cycle, but a pro-potumentary that includes debunking them on History or Viceland or whatever will get ratings even for the re-runs. Nobody wants to see snippets or soundbites of you and your ilk Grassely! The potumentary will beat the pro-cannabis drum, and your message will not get any air time or print. It has got to be refuted. Someone has got to make that potumentary, Steve.

    3. Raven says:

      Chances are, that rescheduling will be deferred to a later (non existant) date.

      • Mark Mitcham says:

        Stall tactic: That would be consistent with past behaviour. However, the DEA has taken quite a beating (politically) over marijuana in the last couple of years, and they’ve been forced to make concessions, like allowing hemp (not marijuana) to be grown in Kentucky for research.

        They are obviously hostile however; so if they do reschedule, it will be attempt to cling to power and stay relevant, and means little, since schedule 2 drugs are effectively illegal, since no doctor is going to readily hand me a prescription for morphine just because I might want it… still sounds like marijuana prohibition to me.

        But if they do go to schedule 2, (and I agree, that’s a BIG “if”) funny how that puts them right on the same page with Hillary! That would underscore just how prohibitionist Hillary’s stance on cannabis actually is. Sad but true: she supports prohibition.

        Rescheduling from 1 to 2 is arguably an improvement, but anyone who actually thinks cannabis SHOULD BE in schedule 2, or should STAY in schedule 2, is working against us, not for us.

        I’m talking about Hillary. She insults all of us by promoting schedule 2.

        • Julian says:

          Kind of a follow up to an earlier post, but my gut feeling was right about Obama not descheduling so as not to release more classified documents from the ongoing Fast and Furious court scandal;


          A federal judge partially rejected Obama’s executive privilege in response to the Fast and Furious scandal on Tuesday. President Obama reserves the right to appeal, but one can imagine that descheduling by executive order may release more documents unprotected by executive privilege.

          Hopefully, if Obama really wants to deschedule or even reschedule, he can win an appeal before November, but Republicans would likely delay the appeal until after elections.

          • Just Saying says:

            Nicely insightful. Good point.

            “Marijuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing.” Harry J. Anslinger { Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner until 1962}

            WoW…. Just Saying

            • WoW... You're an idiot! says:

              Just because a person who was in the Gov’t, doesn’t mean it’s true!

              WoW….. MIND BLOWN!!

        • Reggiec says:

          Former DEA Spokeswoman: Marijuana is Safe and The DEA Knows It:
          Quotes from Belita Nelson, former DEA spokesperson, who was formerly a chief spoke person for the DEA:
          “Marijuana is safe, we know it is safe. It’s our cash cow and we will never give up,” Belita Nelson told an audience of doctors and nurses at the Marijuana for Medical Professionals Conference in Denver, Colorado a short time ago.
          Nelson says that was the first thing she learned from her Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) education coordinator, Paul Villaescusa, when she was hired in the Dallas office in April 1998.
          She states that the DEA made the mistake of not having her sign a non-disclosure contract when she was hired.
          Nelson states that when she began to expose the truth the DEA tried to keep her quiet and told her. “name your price, $10,000 a month? $20,000? What do you want Belita?”
          “Gradually, I came out of my shell and that dark place I had been because of what I had experienced and what I had seen… If you think the DEA are the good guys, they are not. They are really not. We are talking corruption on steroids.”
          Read more at #illegallyhealed

    4. Galileo Galilei says:

      Basing public policy on anything but what can be inferred from the available data is a recipe for throwing our tax dollars away. Ideology, history, propaganda, ignorance, and pure stubborn intransigence can never guide us as efficaciously.

      • Just Saying says:

        Galileo, obvious bravo and as you know the political will to exploit taxpayers dollars is a certainty of the American political system. Full disclosure, its a requirement. What more reason than “because its there” do our elected officials have to be concerned about the American people? Pungent question, yet one requiring considerable fortitude and resilience among the elite. Where is honesty without regret?

        “Marijuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing.” Harry J. Anslinger { Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner until 1962}

        WoW…. Just Saying

    5. It’s about damn time!!!!

    6. Coffin says:

      A bone to Big Pharma and nothing more.

      Where is deadly tobacco scheduled?

      Cannabis deaths per year – 0

      Tobacco deaths per year – a HUUUGE stack of corpses that would reach to the Moon!

      • jack eich says:

        arrest the people that make alchohol products and cigarettes. millions of people are killed by these items when in fact cannabis is so beneficial for cancer and so many problems. has never killed one person in thousandds of years

      • Mark Mitcham says:

        The figure I have are:

        Annual Deaths due to acetephenamin (Tylenol): 458
        Annual Deaths due to alcohol: 25,000
        Annual Deaths due to tobacco: 443,000
        Annual Deaths due to cannabis: 0

        …from US Center for Disease Control (cdc.gov)

        • mexweed says:

          I’m surprised at how low the alcohol figure is in Mark’s USA list because worldwide


          it’s 3.3 million for 2012, second Best to tobacco’s over 6 million.

          Election reminder everyone: over the last decades Big 2WackGo has consistently given twice as much money to Repubs as to Dems– purpose to promote cannabis prohibition, what else? Even a Heil Hillary is better than any “red” alternative presently on the scene.

          • Just Saying says:

            Sanders has a proposed Bill S-2237. Its to deschedule marijuana all together. Equivalent to beer and tobacco.

            “You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.”
            Harry J. Anslinger { Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner until 1962}

            WoW…. Just Saying

    7. Ron says:

      The DEA is a government agency after all and when do politicians or government offices admit they have perpetrated a lie to the citizens of America let alone just made a mistake?
      Don’t hold your breath for this decision later this summer to be favorable. It will be masked with hundreds of pages of more meaningless justifications, distractions, and false assumptions.

      • Don B says:

        Good point. Agencies have institutional egos, and this agency would find it impossible to accept that they have been and still are dead wrong about marijuana.

        • Nunya Biznes says:

          The government is corrupt and they are not going to give up the millions of dollars they receive from pharmaceutical, oil, lumber, cotton companies to keep Hemp/Cannabis illegal because it would crush their greedy asses if Hemp/Cannabis wasn’t regulated and or controlled.

    8. Fireweed says:

      what about a class action lawsuit based on the idea that the government has a fiduciary relationship to citizens, and the current policy is established in self-interest of the government (and presumably pharmaceutical companies) not of the general public, and that the current policies are in place despite abundant and apparent evidence that marijuana does not meet criteria for schedule 1 classification, so the government, at the expense of its citizens is deliberately abiding by outdated and false information, and based on that, imposing criminal and economic sanctions on people, ruining lives as a result, and denying people the health benefits of a natural substance that by now there is abundant evidence of its healing and preventative properties. So how about it?

      • Anonymous says:

        Absolutely correct’

      • creep144 says:

        I like where you’re going with this idea, but I’d like to see anybody that are proven to have hidden anything from the public to go to prison. I know a lot of them are already dead, but I’d still piss on their graves.

    9. Joel: the other Joel says:

      Marijuana is the “keystone” to the US Control Substance Act of 1970. It is the only reason why the Control Substance Act was created. It is an anti-marijuana cult you are dealing with. Who ever benefits from it being illegal are the sponsors of that cult.

    10. chip says:

      change the scheduling already!!!