Ryan Alexander-Tanner

I HEARD THAT the feds may relax the legal status of weed. That's good, right?

It's okay. Actually, I don't really like it.

The federal Controlled Substances Act is a statute that regulates certain substances, including their manufacture, distribution, and use. One of those is weed. The act contains five separate "schedules" to classify the controlled substances, depending on how intensely the feds believe each must be controlled. Schedule V, which is the lowest, contains things like cough suppressants and anti-diarrheal drugs. Schedule I, which is highest, is reserved for substances with "a high potential for abuse" and "no safe dose." It contains things like heroin, MDMA, Quaaludes, and, somehow, weed. Even doctors cannot prescribe these substances.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently announced it will consider rescheduling cannabis. This came in response to a letter from Senator Elizabeth Warren and some colleagues, which urged the feds to allow more research into the benefits of medical marijuana. The DEA acknowledged that it "understands the widespread interest in the prompt resolution of these petitions... and hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016." We shall see.

Still, shuttling weed to Schedule II or even Schedule III, in my opinion, falls short of the reform needed. Schedule II contains opiates (e.g., codeine, morphine, oxycodone) and stimulants (e.g., cocaine); Schedule III contains drugs like anabolic steroids. Conversely, tobacco and alcohol are de-scheduled entirely and states can regulate those substances free of federal interference. That is where I would like to see weed.

Proponents of rescheduling weed, like Hillary Clinton, tend to offer the hazy line that a Schedule I classification means that researchers cannot study marijuana. That is incorrect. The government does not ban scientific research on Schedule I drugs like marijuana. The problem is the feds have targeted pot even among scheduled substances, making it harder to study. Researchers must submit an investigational new drug application to the Food and Drug Administration, and the DEA has to license the research site and the investigating scientist. When you consider also that only one source exists for federally approved marijuana plants, it gets terribly difficult.

Ultimately, rescheduling marijuana would likely be better than nothing at all. It may allow banks to serve state-compliant pot businesses, and ease the oppressive federal taxing of marijuana businesses. Rescheduling could also help federal employees subjected to random workplace drug testing for off-hours cannabis use. But none of this is as good as treating pot like booze and cigarettes. Even if the DEA relaxes its stance, a new president could undo that.

A better hope, but a longer shot, is that Congress rallies around Bernie Sanders' proposed Senate Bill 2237, which de-schedules marijuana altogether. But that's definitely a long shot.

Send your cannabis legal questions to vince@harrismoure.com.