The DEA should reconsider marijuana laws

Josette Corazza

Ever since the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana has been classified as a Schedule I drug. Schedule I substances are defined by the DEA as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. They are the most dangerous of all the drug schedules, with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence. Other drugs classified as Schedule I substances include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Classified below marijuana – as being less dangerous – are drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

Since marijuana became associated with these other drugs, citizens, doctors and experts alike have been calling for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration to reconsider this classification. The nationwide marijuana debate has many elements to it, but to many the most pressing issue is its current classification as the most dangerous drug on the DEA’s schedule of five distinct categories.

The DEA needs to reconsider the scheduling of marijuana. Moving the drug to a lower classification would produce numerous benefits, including an increased capability to research the effects of marijuana and the possibility to reduce penalties for marijuana offenses.

Marijuana’s classification has become increasingly inconsistent with scientific research public opinion, medical use and state laws. Organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have urged the DEA to change the substance’s scheduling status, citing its possibly significant therapeutic potential for a number of medical conditions, including epilepsy and chronic pain.

The DEA’s description of Schedule I drugs having no currently accepted medical use was not made by anyone in the medical community, but rather by Congress, in the Controlled Substances Act. Many people argue that marijuana has extensive positive effects in treating serious medical ailments, but there is not currently much medical research available to back up these claims. This is largely due to marijuana’s scheduling status. As a Schedule I drug, serious enforcements are placed on the amount of research that is permitted to be done concerning marijuana’s properties and potential for medical use. Changing marijuana’s scheduling would allow for much more research to be done, giving scientists and politicians a better idea of the real benefits and consequences of using it.

The detachment of state and federal law regarding marijuana’s legality presents large problems for the general scope of federalism in the United States. In states in which marijuana has been legalized for medical or even recreational purposes, citizens face complicated rules and regulations working to distinguish the legality and treatment of marijuana in individual states versus on the federal level.

Moving marijuana’s scheduling status would not make the drug legal. It could, however, change penalties for offenses. Penalties for offenses concerning Schedule III drugs, for example, are much less consequential than penalties for offenses for marijuana in its current Schedule I classification.

From an increase in much-needed research about the drug to the lessening of penalties for marijuana offenses, the entire industry, as well as marijuana’s relationship to federalism, would benefit from changing it to a lower classification.