Cannabis Must be Removed from U.S. Controlled Substances Act

Updated: Oct 27

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On October 21, 2022, The Hill published an opinion piece in response to the October 6 announcement from the Biden Administration in Washington, D.C. regarding marijuana reform and the potential rescheduling or descheduling of cannabis under U.S. federal law.

Cannabis and hemp were legal in the U.S. until states began to prohibit them in the nineteen teens, decades before federal prohibition occurred in August of 1937. In 1970, the Nixon Administration again reformed the oversight of marijuana in America with the Controlled Substances Act, which categorized cannabis under Schedule I, the "most restrictive category under the law," according to The Hill.


"Biden's directive asking the secretary of Health and Human Services and the attorney general 'to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law' shines a spotlight on the feds' 'flat Earth' cannabis policies."

"President Biden's recent directive asking the secretary of Health and Human Services and the attorney general 'to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law' shines a spotlight on the federal government's 'flat Earth' cannabis policies," stated the article, which claims that current law classifies cannabis "more like heroin than alcohol."


Understanding Schedule I

The article reported that, by definition, substances categorized as Schedule I must meet three specific inclusion criteria:

  1. The substance must possess "a high potential for abuse"

  2. It must have "no currently accepted medical use" in the United States

  3. The substance must lack "accepted safety for use…under medical supervision"

The article explained that substances that do not meet these criteria "are typically categorized in less restrictive federal classifications (Schedules II through V)," which are "typically reserved for prescription medications." Such drugs are available legally via pharmacies and are regulated mostly by federal, not state, agencies.

"Reclassifying cannabis from Schedule I to II (or even to Schedule III) continues to misrepresent the plant's safety relative to other controlled substances such as cocaine and methamphetamine (Schedule II), anabolic steroids (Schedule III), or alcohol (unscheduled)," reported the article. It explained that rescheduling also "fails to provide states with the ability to regulate [cannabis] free from federal interference."


Comparing Cannabis to Alcohol & Tobacco

"Alcohol and tobacco, two substances acknowledged to possess far greater dangers to health than cannabis, are not classified under the Controlled Substances Act," explained the article. Because of this, state governments can regulate the production and sale of such substances "as they see fit." Such regulatory oversight includes "making decisions regarding where and when these products may be sold and to whom," reported the article.


The popular online database PubMed features 42,000 studies "specific to cannabis," more than half of which were published within the last ten years.

The piece wrote that, before 1970, fewer than one thousand research studies had been conducted about this controversial herb. "This is hardly the case today," noted the independent political news organization, reporting that the popular online database PubMed features 42,000 studies "specific to cannabis"—more than half of which were published within the last ten years.


Ample State-level Cannabis Experience

The article noted that the U.S. possesses "ample first-hand experience regulating cannabis at the state level for either medical or adult-use purposes" and that 37 states feature medical marijuana laws on the books, while 19 have legalized adult-use cannabis for their residents who are 21 or older. The article labeled these state laws "real-world experiments with [cannabis] legalization" that go counter to the urban legend that marijuana is "a highly dangerous substance worthy of its Schedule I prohibitive status under federal law."


The only "productive outcome," according to the controversial article, would be a descheduling of cannabis at the federal level, completely removing it from the Controlled Substances Act.

The article noted that the direction that will be taken by the pertinent federal agencies when it comes to the rescheduling or descheduling of cannabis is not known. It stressed that any reclassification of cannabis—rather than declassification, which would remove the substance from federal oversight, similar to the system for alcohol and tobacco—would fall "woefully short of the federal reforms necessary to appropriately reflect America's emerging understanding of the marijuana plant and how best to regulate its production and consumption."


The only "productive outcome," according to the controversial article, would be a descheduling of cannabis at the federal level, completely removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. It noted that this would provide states with the power "to establish their own marijuana policies, free from federal intrusion."


In addition to aligning federal cannabis policies with those of tobacco and alcohol, descheduling would "respect America's longstanding federalist principles allowing states to serve as "laboratories of democracy."


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