The draconian Schedule I status of cannabis in federal drug law for the last half century has been of one country’s most harmful deceits. For decades cannabis reformers have sought to have marijuana down scheduled from the totally restrictive Schedule I, to Schedule II. But any simple rescheduling still would leave cannabis an illegal federal drug. Much better, and now on the table, is de-scheduling, removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (and the clutches of the DEA). Cannabis could be and should be classified with alcohol and cigarettes, even though it is far safer than these legal substances.
The marijuana-law reforming CARERS Act, now languishing at the neglect of Senator Chuck (Ghastly) Grassley, seeks to down-schedule cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II. This single step has been a long-sought goal of reformers and would be significant; many of the worst legal harms would be removed by that modest rescheduling. Research on health benefits of cannabis would become possible, as marijuana would no longer be defined as medically useless. Mandatory minimum sentences, enforced because of cannabis’ Schedule I status, would no longer apply.
Still, cannabis does not belong in Schedule II, with cocaine and other harsher drugs. Also, the IRS 280e regulation that inflicts severe tax impacts on marijuana businesses, would still be in play. Banking would remain impossible. Cities and counties in legal states could still prohibit, relying on the argument that it is against federal law.
The DEA itself down-scheduled synthetic marijuana in the form of the pharmaceutical pill, to Schedule III. Ironically, Marinol is 100% THC, far stronger than the strongest pot, and taken as a pill without the dose management capabilities of smoking or vaping. This down-scheduling, by the way, belies President Obama’s assertion that he could not reschedule should he so choose. The DEA, after all, is part of the Justice Department, which in turn reports to the president.
Even down-scheduling to Schedule IV or Schedule V would place cannabis with substances far more dangerous. Nearly any drug can kill; cannabis cannot kill. The main problem with cannabis being scheduled at all in the Controlled Substance Act is with that status cannabis remains a federally illegal drug.
Marijuana never should have been a federally criminally controlled drug; it must not continue to be so in the future.
Although the fit is far from perfect, cannabis could be more fairly government regulated if it were treated like alcohol and cigarettes. These two supposed non-drugs are in fact the most dangerous, and kill millions around the planet each year. Cannabis kills zero each year world wide. Still, such a classification, out of the Controlled Substance Act and out of the hands of the DEA, would enable intense medical marijuana research and an entrepreneurial boom. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Cannabis, and Firearms could be the regulatory agency.
One Presidential Candidate Supports De-Scheduling: Senator Bernie Sanders
Sen. Sanders is simply proposing that we treat marijuana similarly to how we treat alcohol at the federal level, leaving most of the details to the states. It is a commonsense proposal that is long overdue in the Senate
Lacking passage of this bill, exactly how cannabis gets totally de-scheduled is questionable. Were Bernie Sanders to attain the presidency, he could down-schedule to the least restrictive Schedule V. But whether he could remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act on this own, without congressional agreement, is unclear.