Federal classification of marijuana is scientifically baseless and is hurting those who need it

Graphic by Maria Nevada

Ian DeRuiter

By law of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana is a Schedule I drug, ranking among drugs like heroin and synthetic opioids. Of the five Schedules (I being the most dangerous and V being the least), Schedule I drugs are described as “drugs with a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use.”

For marijuana, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse in 2017, deaths by overdose (overdosing being a sign of substance abuse) involving heroin in America was 15,958; for natural and synthetic opioids combined, this number was 49,068 – nearly 68 percent of all drug related deaths in 2017.

How does this compare to a less dangerous Schedule II drug like cocaine? As the Schedule states, cocaine is less dangerous than opioids when comparing death rates, accounting for 14,556 by overdose – 20 percent of drug related deaths. If cocaine is on a lower Schedule than marijuana, then cocaine should account for fewer overdose deaths, right? Wrong.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has reported no overdose deaths by marijuana. Zero. Ever. Some even speculate it is not possible for a person to overdose on marijuana. “Because cannabinoid receptors… are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal overdoses from Cannabis and cannabinoids [marijuana] do not occur,” according to the National Cancer Institute,

There is a problem with the categorization of marijuana under Schedule I of controlled substances being that it clearly does not have the same scope of influence on overdoses when comparing it to other high schedule drugs.

Another indicator for potential substance abuse is by measuring the addictiveness of the substance. Again, marijuana is over classified in its Schedule compared to high schedule drugs and other addictive substances.

According to Psychology Today, “Only about 9 [percent of marijuana users] will have a serious [marijuana] addiction… [And] compared to other substances, marijuana is not very addicting. It is estimated that 32% of tobacco users will become addicted, 23% of heroin users, 17% of cocaine users, and 15% of alcohol users… It is much harder to quit smoking cigarettes than it is to quit smoking pot.”

Furthermore by Psychology Today, the withdrawal symptoms of marijuana are fairly mild compared to other drugs: “Unlike other substances, pot has very few severe withdrawal symptoms and most people can quit rather easily.” The high-class Scheduling of marijuana is truly unscientific and not based on fact.

The other description of marijuana as a Schedule I drug is that is has “no currently accepted medical use,” however, recent discoveries and ancient uses of medical marijuana beg to differ. In its medicinal use, the plant is recognized to have two key healing ingredients: THC and CBD. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the active ingredient that, according to Medicine Net, makes users feel “high,” while the other, CBD (cannabinol), does not.

When combined together in the marijuana plant, many respected medical organizations support the science and history of medical marijuana use: WebMD states that: “Doctors… may prescribe medical marijuana to treat: Muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis; Nausea from cancer chemotherapy; Poor appetite and weight loss caused by chronic illness, such as HIV, or nerve pain; Seizure disorders; [and] Crohn’s disease.”

The World Health Organization recognizes that marijuana has “demonstrated the therapeutic effects… for nausea and vomiting in the advanced stages of illnesses such as cancer and AIDS.”

The National Cancer Institute states, “The use of Cannabis for medicinal purposes dates back at least 3,000 years. It came into use in Western medicine in the 19th century and was said to relieve pain, inflammation, spasms, and convulsions.”

Not only is there backing for medical marijuana in medical theory, but also the West has been using this plant for over 200 years, including today in 30 states that recognize its medicinal value. Marijuana has had a long history of accepted medical use and by denying this, the Federal Government denies solid science.

Clearly, the CSA has scheduled marijuana incorrectly; so, what to do? The CSA has a self-adjusting article in the its text reading: “[T]he Attorney General may by rule… remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule.” In which case Attorney General Jeff Sessions is in full discretion to, as he should, remove marijuana from federal prosecution. However, with his known stance on the drug this is very unlikely.

A more likely solution, and one that properly devolves this national battle of “morals versus marijuana” back to the states, would be for Congress to pass an amendment to the CSA, removing marijuana from any Schedule, and thus would fully immobilize the DEA from its ill-advised War on Drugs for any cannabinoid substance.

This has happened in part with the 2014 Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, where state-approved medical marijuana became immune from federal prosecution. But don’t settle for less; Federal protection of marijuana has momentum. Now we must continue the fight for full protection of state choice for their marijuana laws and stop the DEA from unreasonably prosecuting non-violent acts at the expense of our liberty.