Reschedule or legalize? Recreational or medicinal? So many questions, what is a country to do?
People everywhere, and of all walks of life, seem to be talking about marijuana these days.
Tidbits of conversation- the two girls sitting at the bar just down from you, the guys behind you at the chairlift, that man when you were getting your oil changed on his phone with someone, loudly proclaiming who he won’t be voting for….
Everybody’s got an opinion and everybody is right.
I don’t know if it’s because it’s an election year, or because every time you turn around you meet another person who has been helped by medical marijuana, or just because it’s legal on most of the west coast and almost half the nation medicinally. What I do know is this is a hot topic. A very deep and convoluted hot topic. Where every question you try to answer only gives rise to many more questions and what ifs…
For medical cannabis advocates the arguments for rescheduling marijuana are quite strong. Most believe it should never have been a schedule 1 drug in the first place and having it there creates a catch 22 that is difficult to get around. Basically, marijuana is a schedule 1 drug because there is not enough research and there is not enough research because it is in schedule 1. Schedule 1 drugs are deemed the most dangerous drugs of all the drugs listed and have potentially severe psychological or physical dependence. They are also believed to have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Having marijuana in Schedule 1 puts it right alongside Heroin, LSD, and Ecstasy.
The primary difference between Schedule I and II substances lies in the phrase: “currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”
Downgrading it to Schedule 2 would essentially be saying there are accepted medical uses. But schedule 2 is still reserved for drugs that are considered to have a high potential for abuse, potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. Drugs like methamphetamine, and cocaine..
One could argue that moving marijuana to a less restrictive legal category would open doors to more large scale, double-blind studies and allow for a more honest discussion of marijuana’s hazards and benefits. But, I’m not sure it would do any good to lower it just to a schedule 2. There are very cumbersome registration requirements in order to do large double blind studies, and they happen to apply to both schedule 1 and schedule 2 drugs, which are the kinds of studies the FDA likes to base its approvals on. Maybe a better option would be to lower it to at least a schedule 3 to really make a difference. Also, we should keep in mind that the same criminal penalties apply equally to both schedule 1 and 2 drugs and the legal status of state-licensed canna-businesses would not be affected by rescheduling. In the eyes of the government, they would still be viewed as illegal enterprises.
In schedule 3 a drug or substance is defined as a drug with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence and the abuse potential is less than Schedule I and Schedule II. It’s arguable that Schedule 3 is really the appropriate category for marijuana anyway. Afterall, that is the category for medically useful drugs and where the DEA put Marinol (a synthetic version of THC) that is prescribed to chemotherapy patients to alleviate nausea and vomiting, and to AIDS patients to stimulate their appetite.
Any rescheduling at all would represent a huge step forward for marijuana’s legitimacy as a medicine, but could that then also create problems for the recreational market? If we are saying marijuana is indeed a medicine, then aren’t we saying there is no use for it recreationally? Medicines have to be approved by the FDA. The FDA tends to prefer isolated chemicals so there would have to be an approved formulation of it. It’s easy to imagine there might be a time where extracted formulas from THC or CBD are considered “medicine” but since regulators tend to look sideways at herbal medicine, marijuana in the raw plant form would not be considered medicine.
If marijuana were placed in schedule 2, we would likely be placing the production power in the hands of the Big Pharmaceutical companies. As big as the current dispensaries may seem, they are still essentially financial dwarfs compared to Big Pharma. Wouldn’t there be a big rush for market share with the deepest pockets winning the race? GW Pharmaceuticals, for instance has the government’s explicit approval to investigate marijuana’s benefits and spends billions of dollars annually to do so. They almost have no choice but to get involved since marijuana could easily replace many expensive store bought drugs used for pain or nausea such as Advil, ibuprofen, and Imodium. I mean there’s a lot of money to be lost there. Listing marijuana as a schedule 2 drug seems like it would be a step in the right direction but it would also be one step closer to handing it over entirely to big pharma and no one wants that. Except big pharma.
Then we have to consider, when big pharma gets involved that will completely destroy the largely artisanal characteristic of the industry today.
There is one huge perk for the businesses in the cannabis industry that would result from a schedule 3 listing in the elimination of Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code. This tax code prohibits the deduction of business expenses related to “trafficking in controlled substances,” but it only applies to drugs on Schedule I or II. The ability to deduct business expenses from their taxes could save dispensaries millions. Would it also help to bring down prices?
A large portion of the American public, over half depending on the poll, now support the legalization of marijuana. Not really surprising given that we live in a society founded on individual rights and free choice. This is a society that doesn’t appreciate an over-reaching government in our private lives.
The arguments for de-scheduling, or removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act completely, are many.
Not the least of them being points made above. Firstly, this act would remove almost all of the red tape plaguing research and also spur much needed large format, double blind testing helping to further our education on it’s benefits and danger as well as open up much more intense research into medical marijuana. Advocates for legalization would argue that criminalizing has done little to keep drugs out of the hands of youth. Prohibition is a failure and carries with it humongous financial and social costs.
Fear mongers will say that marijuana is a gateway drug, normalizing drug use in general and leading our children to other drug use. But advocates believe that if marijuana is a “gateway” drug then alcohol is the train that delivers susceptible people with addictive personalities to try more dangerous and addictive drugs, yet alcohol is legal. The leading advocates for legalizing cannabis would argue that marijuana is actually safer even than most of the drugs that are in schedule 5, such as lethal sedatives phenobarbital and the ‘date rape’ drug rohypnol, and that marijuana really does not fit in any of the five categories of the Controlled Substances Act. The CSA specifically excludes alcohol and tobacco from its schedules, studies have shown that marijuana’s potential for abuse seems lower than these, let alone that of many pharmaceuticals.
One good argument for legalization of marijuana is that legal substances can be controlled in ways that illegal ones cannot.
If marijuana were to be removed from the CSA it would need be regulated, and probably in the same way that alcohol and tobacco are regulated by the ATF. Speaking of alcohol and tobacco, is legalization worth the risk of big Alcohol and big Tobacco sticking their greedy hands in the pot? Maybe it is, if it helps to eliminate the black market….
There’s no arguing that the cannabis industry generates millions in revenue. Colorado, for instance, raised $63 million in it’s first year, and much of that money goes back into the community to support causes such as the education system, public protection, and youth marijuana education. With legalization also comes substantial business benefits to marijuana enterprises such as access to banking, business loans and lines of credit, and credit card processing not to mention the tax breaks. These are major problems plaguing the industry that cannot be healed with the rescheduling option. If nothing else, rescheduling would send a powerful message debunking the idea that marijuana isn’t medicine and possibly making it more palatable for states that don’t allow medical marijuana to reconsider. It would still be illegal at the federal level but it is a step in the right direction and Rome wasn’t built in a day….
There are so many more points, from elimination of the black market to job creation, that could be brought into the conversation,
These are just a few of the considerations when contemplating the options regarding marijuana reform, and the ramifications of any decision will be paramount and far-reaching.