People who are familiar with marijuana are also familiar with its often
contested spot on the list of Schedule I Controlled Substances. For
years, advocacy groups have been fighting to have marijuana re-listed or
delisted entirely, but as yet there’s been no movement. This unfortunate
situation makes marijuana harder for patients to access and makes it
more difficult for scientists to study marijuana to uncover more of its
medicinal benefits. Here’s what consumers need to know about the messy
history of marijuana’s classification:
The Low-Down on Schedule I Classification
Of the five classes the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) uses
to classify controlled substances, Schedule I is the most restricted.
Substances in the Schedule I
group are thought to
be the most dangerous and hold the highest potential for abuse and
addiction. These drugs are also classified as having no medicinal value.
Schedule I substances include heroin, LSD and ecstasy. Drugs like
cocaine and methamphetamine are ranked lower than marijuana as Schedule
The Impact of Schedule I Classification
Ever since marijuana was classified as a Schedule I substance by the
Reagan Administration in 1970, people have been fighting to have it
removed from the list. Research has proven time and time again that
marijuana has a low potential for
and abuse (except for a mild
for adolescents), and multiple studies have shown beyond a shadow of a
doubt that marijuana has dozens of medicinal properties that can be used
to manage and treat symptoms like chronic
in a wide variety of patients. There is even a drug derived from
cannabis compounds that is currently on the
market and being used to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea.
In light of its low potential for abuse and high potential for medicinal
value, the fact that marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance
is problematic. Because cannabis is scheduled at the highest possible
tier by the feds, people who are caught with it in states without
medicinal or recreational marijuana laws face harsh penalties.
Additionally, researchers who want to study marijuana are forced to leap
through a nearly impossible series of bureaucratic hoops to secure
permission or funding, which almost always results in no research being conducted.
Additionally, doctors who want to treat patients with marijuana in
states without medical marijuana licenses risk litigation or the loss of
their medical licenses. Even doctors in states where medical marijuana
is legal (such as New York) still don’t recommend medical
to their patients due to fears of legal blow back or a loss of their
malpractice insurance. These things make it virtually impossible for
patients to have safe, secure access to medical marijuana and further
impede the research and development of effective, medicinal,
marijuana-derived treatments for dangerous health conditions.
Proposals to Reschedule Marijuana
Throughout the last 46 years, there have been dozens, if not hundreds,
of proposals to reschedule
Almost immediately after marijuana was classified as a Schedule I
substance, a group called the National Organization for the Reform of
Marijuana Laws (NORML) petitioned the DEA to
reclassify marijuana as a less-dangerous substance. After a tough,
22-year-long battle in the court system, the feds rejected that appeal.
In 2002, the Coalition to Reschedule
another petition that sought to reschedule cannabis, although this
request was also
The group appealed the decision but was again rejected. The reason for
the rejection was that there was no evidence to support the medical use
of cannabis. Within the last several years, the DEA and groups of U.S.
regulators have conducted additional studies of cannabis and have
determined, on two separate
that cannabis needs to remain a Schedule I substance. In 2013,
Americans for Safe
yet another appeal cannabis, which was also denied by the courts. More
recently, presidential candidates like Bernie
have petitioned to deschedule or reschedule marijuana, although changes
have yet to take place. Marijuana aficionados remain hopeful, however,
as there is much talk about the fact that President Obama may seek to
before he leaves office.
Why Marijuana Has Not Been Rescheduled Yet
While there are many theories about why the feds have yet to reschedule
marijuana, most experts believe that the issue boils down to doubt about
marijuana’s medical benefits. Despite the fact that dozens of studies
have proven the medical benefits of
big-name organizations like the FDA remain skeptical. While marijuana
aficionados are hopeful that marijuana will be rescheduled shortly,
there are dozens of congressional and administrative
standing between marijuana and declassification. While many high-ranking
experts believe that the Schedule I classification of marijuana is
Congress remains in gridlock when it comes to changing the plant’s
classification. Even if classification does change in the coming years,
marijuana lovers need to realize that the herb faces many future
difficulties, such as the intrusion of big pharma and future legal
What about the Obama Administration?
While some remain hopeful that President Obama may decide to reclassify marijuana before the end of his term in office, he has not indicated that he will do this. In fact, he has stated that he sees this as an issue for congress to act upon. Others have pointed out that between Health and Human Services and the Justice Department, it could be reclassified without congressional approval. At this point, most people think the likelihood of action before the end of the current term is minimal.