Currently pot is listed as a schedule 1 narcotic under federal law, along with heroin, LSD and magic mushrooms. These drugs are considered the most dangerous, the least medically beneficial and the most addictive.
Even cocaine, methamphetamines and PCP are lower on the drug schedule than marijuana, because they can be prescribed in very limited medical circumstances. The federal government takes the position that weed has no known medical benefits because it hasn’t been studied thoroughly enough.
Now Americans for Safe Access, based in San Francisco, wants to reclassify cannabis as a schedule 3 drug. That listing includes certain barbiturates, codeine medications and anabolic steroids, all of which are dangerous and carry a potential for abuse but can be prescribed by a doctor.
The group first asked the DEA to reclassify marijuana in 2002. The agency waited nine years to respond, saying only in 2011 that there was insufficient research to support an argument that cannabis has medical benefits and isn’t especially dangerous.
Americans for Safe Access pointed to more than 200 well-researched studies showing pot is a safe, effective treatment for pain and nausea, as well as for the effects of chemotherapy. But the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., deferred to the DEA in a January ruling. The Supreme Court denied review.
Joseph Elford, an attorney for the group, said momentum was building across the country for a change in the drug classification, and the loss in court would soon be rectified.
“I think it’s just a matter of time,” Elford said, noting that several governors of states with legalized medical or recreational marijuana have asked the DEA to change marijuana’s status. “It’s absurd to say it has a higher abuse potential than cocaine and methamphetamine.”
The drug listing could change in other ways. Congress could pass legislation or, more likely, President Obama could issue an executive order reclassifying weed.
Marijuana studies are currently underway, but historically they have been next to impossible to conduct in the United States, making it difficult to establish the drug’s safety and effectiveness. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, an anti-drug agency, actively blocks medical marijuana research, even though doing so is outside its legal purview.
The DEA, meanwhile, is a heavily biased agency, depending on the drug war for its very existence. A downgrading of marijuana might effectively end much of the agency’s operations.