Ever since the Nixon Administration made cannabis a wholly prohibited Schedule I substance in 1970, politicians and various groups have petitioned for a schedule change. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sent a letter to U.S. senators in April announcing that the agency hoped to address the latest petition in the first half of 2016, and leaks suggest the DEA is on track to move cannabis to Schedule II. The source for the leak is reportedly a Los Angeles-based DEA lawyer with knowledge of the proceedings.
While half the states already legalized medical and/or recreational cannabis, federal prohibition trumps state law. At present, the feds largely practice non-enforcement in legal states, but rescheduling will have huge symbolic and tangible benefits. If moved to Schedule II, cannabis will remain highly restricted in the same category as cocaine, oxycodone and crystal meth, but it will mark the end of full-scale prohibition on the federal level. The move will allow doctors to prescribe (not just recommend) cannabis, and researchers will have greater access to the plant to conduct clinical studies on its medical properties.
Speaking with the Santa Monica Observer, the DEA lawyer said, "In my opinion, CVS pharmacy, Rite-Aid and Walgreens will sell Schedule 2 THC products similar to what users call ‘edibles,’ but will not sell smokable weed because of the health risk smoking anything entails.” Reporting on the leak, the Denver Post suggested, “Marijuana prescriptions would almost certainly be allowed only in traditional medicinal forms, such as pills and extract drops and perhaps topical lotions and nebulizers.”
The Denver Post believes the announcement will take place before July 1. Most reformers argue that cannabis should be descheduled altogether, and moving it to Schedule III would provide significantly more benefits. Nevertheless, the DEA has gone to extreme lengths over the decades to keep cannabis 100 percent illegal, so moving it to Schedule II is a massive shift in the right direction.
UPDATE: The DEA responded yesterday to the rumors that a schedule change is forthcoming. DEA staff coordinator Russ Baer would neither confirm nor deny the source, but he said, "We aren't holding ourselves to any artificial timeline" and noted the challenges in trying to “identify the parts of the plant that might have benefits and separating out (the beneficial) parts from the ones that aren’t beneficial or harmful.” The DEA definitely does want to remove roadblocks to cannabis research, and it would seem some changes (be it rescheduling, exemptions, etc.) will happen. “Marijuana is important," Baer added, "but our efforts are mainly focused on the nation’s growing opioid crisis."
Mount Rushmore mural by Eduardo Kobra.