It is time to reclassify marijuana

By Walker Baird
January 31, 2013

Recent voting in Colorado and Washington exposes a striking discrepancy in the national legal status of marijuana. Under current federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, which places it in the same category as heroin, peyote, LSD and Ecstasy. To be qualified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, a drug must have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.

The clause regarding medical benefits should immediately eliminate cannabis from this schedule, because numerous studies have proven its medical effectiveness, from glaucoma to pain relief to hunger stimulation during chemotherapy and in AIDS patients. For these precise reasons, 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of medical marijuana: It is a viable alternative to prescription medication that can often cause side effects more detrimental than the illness they are treating. For federal law to say that cannabis has no accepted medical use is to contradict the work of many doctors, studies and the actions of many state legislatures.

As for the second clause, it is surprising that a substance commonly used without medical supervision and that has reported zero deaths under current records would be deemed unsafe when used by patients under the care of a physician. Many of the drugs classified alongside marijuana would prove to be dangerous even with such care. It borders on absurd to say that a person using cannabis is at the same risk of dying as a person injecting heroin or using methamphetamines. No side effects of marijuana suggest a person is fatally at risk while using it.

The clause regarding the potential for abuse is more arguable. Although marijuana contains no addictive chemicals, it is regarded as a possible habit-forming substance. It can be difficult to define abuse in a legal sense, but the Virginia government defines substance abuse as “the chronic use of any chemical substance used with the intention of altering states of body or mind for other than medically warranted purposes,” while the World Health Organization sees the use of a substance as abuse if it affects a user’s daily life in a negative manner. But even those arguing that marijuana might be addictive would have difficulty making the case that it is more addictive than widely available drugs, including alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, over-the-counter sleep remedies, etc. And with the definition set forth by Virginia, any use of alcohol beyond a glass of red wine every once in a while with dinner or taking an extra aspirin for a severe headache would constitute substance abuse. Marijuana may be considered a habit-forming substance, but to say that it has a high potential for abuse seems to be a stretch.

One need not argue for marijuana’s widespread legalization to recognize that it should be reconsidered, and the schedule of the drug should be changed. There are many avenues to take that could lead to the reconsideration of the schedule of marijuana, but since the Drug Enforcement Administration is the agency that defines and classifies different schedules of drugs, an effort toward them would be the most fruitful. Recently Americans for Safe Access, an organization formed in 2002 for the safe and legal access to medical marijuana, has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia to force the DEA to reconsider the schedule of marijuana. While legal avenues are useful, it would be best if the federal government could take a page from the referenda in Colorado and Washington and formulate its drug policy with at least some democratic input from the American people.

PHOTO: A customer’s marijuana packed bowl along with his beer sits on the table at Frankie Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia, Washington on December 9, 2012. REUTERS/Nick Adams

11 comments

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Yes, way past time to reconsider the laws that hold Americans from being who we want to be and take the MEDICINE that helps without having uncle Sam take us to Jail or Prison so tax payers pay much more to house them. on the other hand if we just taxed the sell and pot and the use for medicine the tax numbers would greatly outweigh the money we pay to house people in jail for a petty of being a pothead or needing medicine. I will never understand why we live in such a dark time still. It gives me the chills and makes me think about the Salem Witch Burnings. A mass group of people that believed that these so called witches would curse them and make life bad for people its the same hysteria…

Posted by SupervisorX | Report as abusive

This was a very well-written article with great points. I have to agree completely. With your points combined with the fact that anyone with a clue has also deemed the War on Drugs a complete failure and a money sapping flop, one would think that the feds would, as you said, take a page from what Colorado and Washington have done – But, that would of course mean that our fine political hacks had an IQ greater than a potato, or CARED what the PEOPLE really wanted, or what is actually right. Don’t hold your breath, but keep your fingers crossed.

Posted by whataTS | Report as abusive

Marijuana Prohibition was conceived, born and nurtured from lies, greed and racism. Nothing has changed that fact. Of Course we should legalize it, save tens of billions and stop arresting millions, annually.

Posted by MikeParent | Report as abusive

Here’s the subtle problem. Marijuana is a whole botanical, unlike most of the “substances” on the list. Take mescalin, a schedule one substance. This individual substance is found in high concentrations in the San Pedro cactus. The San Pedro cactus is not on the list, and therefore it can be legally grown and sold for decorative purposes. A main issue is that marijuana contains about 70 cannabinoids in addition to THC. All cannabinoids, which are essentially unique to marijuana (also hemp), are schedule 1 substances. Therefore, marijuana must be removed entirely from the list, as all of the cannabinoids will not be researched for safety any time soon.

Posted by byrond2 | Report as abusive

I meant ‘mescaline” not “mescalin” above. Besides that, I think it’s important to consider that the US government may be much more open to legalizing marijuana as a recreational substance versus categorizing it as a medicine. Like alcohol and tobacco, it is a natural substance. If you leave grape juice out in the open for a few days, yeast in the air will turn it into wine. Tobacco and marijuana are simply natural plants that can and will be used recreationally. I’d prefer to think of marijuana more like a safer version of alcohol that’s about as dangerous as caffeine. Coffee, too, is of course a natural plant that is used as a recreational, mind-altering drug, and it’s really amazingly popular.

Posted by byrond2 | Report as abusive

“it is regarded as a possible habit-forming substance”.

So is lip balm.

Posted by SeeView | Report as abusive

@spca, it seems that first, you have a problem with motor vehicle safety. Cars have been used by people for about 100 years, while marijuana has been used by people for about 10,000 year. Since marijuana has never directly caused deaths due to its low toxicity, and cars cause thousands of deaths every year, it is clear that cars are much worse. Second, I have not seen any scientific evidence that demonstrates that marijuana makes people more violent. And it really isn’t very “mind altering”. It’s not much more “mind altering” than a triple shot of espresso, at least at reasonable doses. I do wonder about this excessive use of Xanax, however.

Posted by byrond2 | Report as abusive

The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Locking up more of it’s citizens than China locks up of there citizens. The US is the exact opposite of the b.s. land of the free that is taught in schools. The founding fathers would have never believed in drug laws or in agencies like the DEA or DHS. The US is a police state. There are endless violations of the 4th amendment made by law enforcement everyday throughout the US. It is past time to end drug laws. In 2010, the govt. spent 15 plus billion on the drug war. Even if there were an increase of welfare recipients from erasing drug laws, it would still be far cheaper than spending the insane amount of money on prisoners and drug law enforcers.

Even if there were an increase of auto accident deaths, it would still be far less deaths than those who die in gangland shootouts and those who rob and kill to get money to buy drugs. It makes me sick to hear blind patriots that claim the US is the freest nation on earth but believe in imprisoning a fellow American over recreational drugs. The puritan mindset in the US today would find major disagreement with the founding fathers over drug laws. Thomas Jefferson cultivated poppy plants for opium, as did many others in the colonies. No govt. should have the right to imprison a citizen over what they consume. The govt. does not care about your health, that’s a ruse, just a cover for them, they make money by using prison labor to manufacture products dirt cheap with the profits going to a select few wealthy elitists.The majority of Americans have no idea that they were snowed into accepting a new form of slavery called the drug war. Do some research, you will never be taught the truth about real history in school or college.

Posted by mccallumjohn21 | Report as abusive

Good job shining light on a dark corner Walker. A primary problem with legalization at this point is all the privately contracted probation and prison services. There is money involved and the current receivers are going to be loathe to give it up.

We’ve wasted trillions of dollars and thousands of man lives losing the war on drugs. God I hope we wake up soon!

Posted by CaptnCrunch | Report as abusive

Legalize pot and see this country a nicer, happier, and safer place to live. Less people will abuse there kids, less shootings, less medical bills, and less road rage. That’s just to name a few. Not to mention the tax revenue to pay down the deficit. This is the elephant in the room.

Posted by magzab | Report as abusive

Ironically, another Reuters headline in “Disbarred Florida lawyer caught after 26 years on run in drug case” was just hunted down and seized by U.S. Federal agents in Mexico for having fled from a 27 year sentence for “marijuana smuggling”. Well at least he didn’t defraud investors out of an estimated $1.5 billion worth such as the former CEO of Refco, who only got a 16 year sentence and bankrupted one of the largest commodities companies in the World. The judge even gave the Refco CEO time at home for a couple of months before starting his sentence. That was so considerate of her. But this poor lawyer who smuggled marijuana probably isn’t going to a Federal 4-star prison either.

Posted by StevenMitchell1 | Report as abusive