An intriguing, yet odd, article from the Santa Monica Observer was recently published. The author of this article is making a bold claim from an anonymous source in the DEA, saying that the DEA could reclassify cannabis from a schedule I to a schedule II drug on August 1st, 2016. This article is referring to a national news story that broke back in May. This decision potentially coming from the Drug Enforcement Administration could prove to be a milestone moment for the budding legal cannabis industry. The Washington Post was the first to report on this.
In essence, this will legalize medicinal cannabis in all 50 states with a doctor’s prescription, according to a “DEA lawyer with knowledge of the matter.”
A recent memo from the DEA lawyer says, “DEA has received scientific and medical evaluations and scheduling recommendations and is currently reviewing the data to make a scheduling determination in accordance with the Controlled Substances Act. DEA understands the widespread interest in the prompt resolution of these petitions.”
The memo adds: “DEA hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016.”
At this time, the United Stated has five schedules that classify illicit drugs. Schedule I drugs are ones which the DEA considers to have the highest potential for abuse and no “current accepted medical use.” This classification applies even if doctors recommend patients to use marijuana and supervise their applications. As of right now, cannabis is listed under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug.
Marijuana has been a schedule I drug for decades. If the DEA were to reschedule marijuana, it wouldn’t be instantly legal. However, restrictions on research and criminality could end up being reduced.
As you might already know, cannabis legalization advocates have long argued for reclassification. Cannabis alone has never been responsible for a single recorded death. When you compare the relative safety of cannabis to a drug like heroin, things start to make better sense. Heroin caused around 11,000 overdose deaths in 2014 alone, according to the National Institutes of Health. Not to mention, 23 states have already legalized medical cannabis to treat a myriad of ailments. Even the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy admitted last year that “marijuana can be helpful” for specific diseases.
Many op-ed pieces and blog posts have been written about this story, but what are the real, objective facts? If this reclassification indeed does happen, how does it help? Conversely, how would it hurt?
How and who would it help?
If the DEA does go through with rescheduling cannabis to a schedule II substance, it will share the scheduling with drugs the federal government deems less dangerous, such as cocaine, opium and LSD. Ketamine is currently a schedule III drug. This rescheduling of cannabis could expand and improve upon research by exploring its medical use.
People have been requesting that the DEA review reasons for the reclassification of cannabis for quite some time. In 2001 and 2006, the DEA reviewed and considered petitions to reclassify cannabis, but they ultimately decided to maintain the schedule I classification.
If cannabis is reclassified to a schedule II, it could open the door for more university research and independent lab testing to be conducted, which would help grow our understanding of the plant as a medicine.
The banking industry could be a big potential beneficiary of a rescheduling. Although some progress has been made, many banks still are unable to accept new accounts from legal marijuana entrepreneurs due to the risks involved with doing so. A reclassification could afford big banks and Wall Street the opportunity to enter into the legal cannabis industry. On the banking end, a rescheduling could help small cannabis business owners. A reclassification could also allow dispensaries to accept methods of payments other than cash, and enable owners to operate a legitimate business bank account.
How and who would it hurt?
If this reclassification were to happen, it could definitely help improve research and reduce criminality associated with cannabis. However, there are some unexpected consequences that some people might not be taking into account. First and foremost, this reclassification could land a huge blow onto legal cannabis businesses that are living under the current scheduling landscape. A lot of these cannabis entrepreneurs have gone through painstaking processes to operate legitimate businesses in states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Michigan and California. While a potential rescheduling could be a positive thing for American civil liberties, it could prove to cut into the bottom line of many currently compliant cannabis companies and entrepreneurs.
Many industry leaders believe that if cannabis does go to a schedule II, it could stifle the creation of new startups – or worse – prevent startups entirely. Their line of thinking is that only big corporations with deep pockets will be able to afford working within the FDA guidelines. As it stands now, the pharmaceutical industry seems to be best poised to be able to play by FDA rules. Because of this, many industry experts are saying that the potential schedule change could just be a move being made by the pharmaceutical lobby with major federal government connections in order to take a stranglehold on the industry.
Additionally, the FDA cannot approve a drug that is derived or processed from a schedule I narcotic. Companies like GW pharmaceuticals have products that currently cannot legally go to market without approval from the FDA. A rescheduling could change that.
On the flip side, other industry experts and cannabis law experts seems to think that small-scale owners and entrepreneurs will be just fine, even if a rescheduling occurs.
“We are skeptical of the authenticity of the information derived from the Santa Monica Observer article. We hope it’s not true because moving it to schedule II still does not fix many issues in the industry, like dealing with business taxes and the IRS. If it is true we can only hope that the federal government will do the right thing and finally end the prohibition versus essentially just handing it over to government agencies and corporations.” Explained Matthew Mills, COO of Med-X, Inc. and Founder of Nature-Cide Insecticides.
Obviously, a rescheduling of cannabis could indeed change the landscape as it currently stands right now. But, is an actual rescheduling likely, or is this news just hearsay?
The DEA has been historically slow at responding to rescheduling petitions. This might not be evidence that the DEA is considering cannabis’ reclassification with any more careful consideration than it has before, nor does it indicate empirical evidence that the agency has changed its stance on medical marijuana.
If cannabis were to be rescheduled, huge changes would be required in how the Controlled Substances Act is structured. DEA officials have long maintained that large-scale clinical studies that pass regulations with the Food and Drug Administration are necessary before approving cannabis as any accepted form of medicine. It is certainly true that some studies have been conducted with THC and subsequently resulted in widespread production of the synthetic capsule Marinol. These studies date back to the 1980’s and only cover THC, not including the whole cannabis plant.
President Obama has said that marijuana will be reclassified only if Congress votes to do so.
“What is and isn’t a schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress,” President Obama said in an interview with CNN in 2014. “It’s not something by ourselves that we start changing.”
Back in January, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reiterated that the president had no intentions of rescheduling cannabis.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder followed in the footsteps of those before him and delegated reclassification of cannabis to the DEA. Holder made no motions to reschedule cannabis while he was in office.
It’s hard to say for sure whether the news story from the Santa Monica Observer is an entirely credible one. The quotes and information supposedly come from an “anonymous lawyer who works with the DEA”.
Reclassifying cannabis from a schedule I to a schedule II drug would definitely have a huge impact on the cannabis industry and on as America as a whole. Does the evidence add up to the idea that this will happen? That’s for you to decide.