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Cannabis: To reschedule or deschedule, that is the question

Ar 170629589
David Holub/DGO
Ar 170629589
David Holub/DGO

Despite numerous appeals to the DEA for reclassification, marijuana, as well as all isolated cannabinoids from the cannabis plant, including CBDs, are classified as a Schedule I narcotic. In order for government-sanctioned scientific research to be done on the efficacy of cannabis and its medicinal properties, it is necessary for marijuana to be rescheduled. While many players in the cannabis industry agree that cannabis should not be classified as a Schedule I drug, the reclassification process has the potential to move marijuana into Schedule II, possibly creating a host of issues for the burgeoning marijuana industry.

The Controlled Substances Act was signed by Richard Nixon in 1970. There are five schedules in the CSA to classify drugs based on their abuse potential, medicinal applications, and safety. Schedule I has the most potential for addiction, with no current accepted medical application. Schedule II also contains highly-addictive drugs, but these have been shown to have medical applications and are controlled by the FDA, issued via prescriptions through federally-regulated pharmacies. Schedule III drugs are considered less addictive, with medical applications, although a prescription is not always necessary. Schedule IV & V follow suit. In terms of safety, Schedule I represents the highest level of danger to self & others, V the least.

Cannabis and all its derivatives are classified as hallucinogenic substances under Schedule I. This categorization halts any further medical or scientific research under the assumption that proper due diligence has already been done to justify this classification. However, this was not the case for cannabis, as there is no scientific research to support the decision of its placement as a Schedule I drug. And while there are reams of testimony on the medicinal benefits of cannabis, most specifically CBD, currently there is no officially- accepted scientific research to validate those claims or to encourage further research for other medical applications, allowing for all parties to have an informed discussion.

Reclassification may seem to be the clear answer out of the quagmire preventing medical marijuana research; however, it could lead the industry and its consumers into further murky territory. If cannabis is rescheduled as a Schedule II drug, the FDA could take control of the disbursement of cannabis along with conducting research and testing leading to an expensive and time-consuming process of approval. It is also likely that the FDA would not issue prescriptions for flower (bud), but rather isolate cannabinoids to create pills or other vehicles for patient consumption. As a Schedule II drug, it would be distributed and monitored via prescription, opening the door for large-scale pharmaceutical companies to compete with the current cannabis industry, leaving many small farmers, dispensary owners, and other producers worrying that this move will topple the industry and leave it to be swept up by big pharma.

Last year, the DEA denied the most recent petition to reclassify marijuana. And while many people were rightfully upset that cannabis still sits in the same Schedule as heroin, and therefore considered more dangerous than Oxycontin or cocaine (both Schedule II drugs), some advocates are pushing for marijuana to be declassified completely and regulated much like alcohol and tobacco. In Colorado, legal recreational weed is regulated by the Marijuana Enforcement Division, and with more states legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use, it seems like this is a practical step. The MED has an extensive program already set up to track all plants from seed to sale, even those that go through the process of conversion to concentrations or edibles. And although this sounds like it would be a good answer for the industry, it might be a dividing point between those who promote marijuana for medicinal purposes and those who use it for recreational reasons.

Government-sanctioned scientific research is needed to back up anecdotal claims for the medicinal value of cannabis, which would allow for patients to receive prescriptions from their doctors, distributing much-needed medicine to many whose ailments can be alleviated in some way by medicinal cannabis. But could this impede on the liberty of those citizens who have already voted to allow adults access to recreational cannabis use? Is it possible to find some common ground? Declassification would open avenues for research without potentially crushing this new industry or jeopardizing product availability. And isn’t that what we as consumers, whether for pleasure or as patients, want? More answers to our ever-burning questions about cannabis.

Meggie J is a published poet and freelance writer living in the Four Corners. She is an avid reader, rafter, and connoisseur of cannabis. She can be reached at coxwell.meggiej@gmail.com.