HEY, YOU GUYS, did you hear? The federal government is about to make weed legal. No, for reals, I saw it on Facebook, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is going to totally make it so doctors have to give it to you, for free! Thanks Obama! I’m gonna make my doctor give me an ounce next week!
Before you start demanding that your podiatrist procure you some shatter, maybe we should do what Americans sort of suck at—taking a pause and examining what’s really up.
As my colleague in cannabis Vince Sliwoski so skillfully wrote in his column last week, yes, the DEA is considering rescheduling cannabis. And while I’ve written about portions of this topic in the past, you may have been too high to recall the edge-of-your-seat details. Because among the least used phrases in the English language, “Let’s get really stoned and examine federal policy on prohibition” is a clear frontrunner.
Background: Since 1970, the DEA has listed cannabis as a “Schedule I” drug. (Not because it’s so awesome that it’s number one, although that’s a great guess.) We’ve talked about things listed as Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which considers these drugs to have “a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use.” The other Schedule I drugs read like a shopping list for Hunter S. Thompson circa 1977: LSD, heroin, ecstasy, peyote, and methaqualone (AKA Quaaludes, AKA Bill Cosby’s allergy meds for trusting young women). The DEA considers all these drugs to be so deadly, that even under a doctor’s supervision they cannot be used safely.
In September 2015, our own bike-riding congressman and friend of cannabis Representative Earl Blumenauer received a letter from the US Justice Department, of which the DEA is a part, stating that the US Department of Health and Human Services had recently submitted a scientific evaluation and scheduling recommendation, which is a step when moving or removing a drug from the CSA. Don’t get too excited, because two months later, the DEA chief called medical marijuana a “joke,” and added that legalized cannabis would be “misguided and wrong and stupid.” And if anyone knows misguided and wrong and stupid, it’s the DEA.
There has been a number of unnamed “high-ranking sources” who have predicted that cannabis will be rescheduled to Schedule II on August 1, or better yet, fully descheduled. Among these hopeful but wrong reports was one that ran in the Santa Monica Observer on June 18, which stated that on August 1, the DEA would reclassify cannabis as Schedule II, and thusly “essentially legalizing medicinal cannabis in all 50 states with a doctor’s prescription.”
Which is great news... if it worked that way.
A recent piece in Forbes makes the point that “because any cannabis-derived medicine would have to be approved by the FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] (based on the same kind of evidence the DEA has always demanded in response to rescheduling petitions) before a doctor could legally prescribe it.”
What a reclassification to Schedule II would allow is better access to cannabis for researchers, who are hampered by the stranglehold the feds have on research, as the only cannabis available to researchers is grown at the University of Mississippi, and that particular crop is pretty much the dregs.
Another benefit would be to newspaper publishers, who currently face a felony charge and up to four years in prison if they “place in any newspaper, magazine, handbill, or other publications, any written advertisement knowing that it has the purpose of seeking or offering illegally to receive, buy or distribute a Schedule I controlled substance.” (Number of Mercury staff members who would survive lockup for 48 hours: negative four.)
Let’s not break out the cannabis-infused champagne yet, as we don’t have know what’s exactly going to happen with all this, and such a beverage is not yet a thing. (Yet.) Change is often slow, frustrating, and at times maddening. But it is coming, and someday we will look back in disbelief that it took so long to free a plant. Until then, take what you hear with a grain of salt—and a fat joint.