Yes, everyone already got the memo- cannabis will remain a Sc
hedule I drug under Federal law. The DEA has taken a look at re-scheduling cannabis three (3) times now. After the August 11, 2016 decision to keep cannabis where it is – we are back where we were when we started this fight – or are we?
What is Schedule I?
Cannabis is currently a Schedule I drug. Contrary to common perception – Schedule I drugs are not categorized as such due to their danger. The DEA Schedule simply determines how stringently the DEA should limit their access, and Schedule I drugs are heavily guarded. Schedule I drugs are defined as those that (1) have no accepted medical use, (2) have a high potential for abuse and (3) do not have any accepted safety provision.
Rescheduling May Not Have Accomplished as Much as You Think
Although Schedule I looks to be an unreasonable and arbitrary place to put our beloved leafy green plant, giving cannabis a new home in a place like Schedule II may not be all it's cracked up to be. First, to dispel a common misconception, Schedule II would NOT make cannabis federally legal. Meaning it would not have automatically deemed the possession, distribution and manufacturing of cannabis legal.
Rather, most importantly, rescheduling cannabis would have meant that Washington D.C. finally acknowledged that cannabis does in fact have important medicinal properties and does not have the exaggerated potential for abuse as categorized Schedule I drugs do. In fact, states with expanded access to cannabis show a reduction in abuse of more dangerous drugs. After passing medical cannabis laws, various states experienced a 25% drop in fatal opioid overdoses, as well as significant decline in alcohol consumption and suicide rates.
Further, it would have sent a strong message that would have potentially helped with broader policy reform in regards to the criminal prosecution.
The Benefits of the DEA Decision
Although cannabis continues to fall under the “no medical use” label, together with heroin and LSD, the second part of DEA's announcement is much more promising. In connection with its denial to reschedule, the DEA opened up the market for cannabis research. Up until last week, the University of Mississippi had a monopoly on research-grade cannabis production and study. This will not be the case anymore! The DEA's decision to expand the government licensing program to produce cannabis is a big step toward understanding the chemistry of the plant and developing an adequate safety study. If medical use and study can be developed, this could be the key to open the door to rescheduling and, down the road, legality.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Like they say, when you close one door, a window opens. Despite the DEA stepping on the same breaks, state legalization has gained some great momentum. The current polls in California favor cannabis legalization. When more states like Colorado, Washington and California take the legalization matter in their own hands, the pressure will be on the Federal Government to play catch up.
In addition, with recently introduced bills pending in Congress, such as SB 2237, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, they are more likely to pass after cannabis is legalized. This bill will allow for cannabis to be de-scheduled from the CSA and instead be treated like alcohol and tobacco. Thus, DEA's lack of movement will not stop the green machine from moving forward at this point in time, definitely not in California!