Cannabis is currently a Schedule I substance, a wholly prohibited classification reserved for hardcore drugs like heroin, peyote and LSD. For decades, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) resisted massive political and public pressure to reschedule cannabis, including lawsuits just to get the government to process petitions to consider it. In one such court-ordered review, DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis Young called for a schedule change describing cannabis as “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man,” but his ruling was quickly overruled by the DEA Administrator. The latest petitions, one filed by a reverend in 2009 and the other by a state governor in 2011, finally led to another review currently under consideration by the DEA. A ruling on the rescheduling is expected this summer.
Will cannabis finally become a Schedule II (or higher) substance? We asked Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR) spokesperson Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, who famously led the effort to get the American Medical Association (AMA) to call for this very review. Here is what Dr. Aggarwal had to say:
I'm betting that its scheduling does change. Yes. I've been saying that it's going to be a thing of the past ever since I led the effort [as a medical student] to get the AMA to call for an urgent review of the schedule change in 2009. Since the AMA student section unanimously called for a reclassification of cannabis in 2007 or 2008, we've been seeing more and more pressure to change that Schedule I [status]. Will they do some other unusual schedule or something silly like that? These guys write the rules as they go along sometimes, so I can't tell you about that. I do feel that pressure is mounting on them to alter the status quo at the federal, regulatory level with cannabis, for sure. I would definitely bet some money on that.
Still, I want them to take it out of the schedules altogether. That's what our organization's position is, that cannabis should not be in any schedule at all. It should be de-scheduled. All of these schedules are forms of prohibition, where it's only allowed for medical use. We believe that responsible adult use can be regulated, and it doesn't require medical oversight, just like having a glass of wine doesn't require medical oversight all the time. Of course, with a young person, it's a different story, but responsible adults should not require medical oversight. I'm just saying that scheduling maintains prohibition. Period. If the DEA wants to maintain prohibition, they're essentially missing the entire message of the United Nations meeting, Kofi Annan, many world leaders, and really the will of the public, and voice of doctors. I'm really hoping that they don't leave it in the schedules. If they down-schedule it, certainly it would be an improvement from Schedule I, recognizing that the thing has medical uses.
I think it wouldn't take long for people to realize the incredible hypocrisy that only the monopolized or oligopolized pharmaceutical companies and US licensed, federally licensed producers can offer a traditional plant medicine to people. I think it would not stand. If it does go down on the schedule, my hope is that it's on its way out, the way that water rolls down a mountain. It has to pass a few other elevations before it gets off the mountain.
David Jenison (email@example.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.