While Californians are getting ready to shape the future of adult marijuana use by voting on its legalization, the federal government has to decide whether cannabis should still be enlisted in the Schedule I category, just like heroin, LSD, and peyote.
Meanwhile, the Drug should soon reveal the decision that can change the destiny of cannabis in the U.S. history and affect all spheres of life: from taxing policy to the medical industry.
Since 1970, cannabis has been ranked, just like heroin, as a highly dangerous and addictive drug with no proven medical use. This classification was based not on the people's opinion but only on scientific facts.
However, lots of changes have happened in the last 46 years. Though studies on marijuana's health effect are still in their infancy, it is already known that pot has a lower addiction rate than alcohol. Moreover, numerous studies have shown the value of marijuana use as treatment for seizures, chronic pain, nausea, and lots of other symptoms and conditions.
If the DEA changes its opinion about cannabis, it will simply catch up with the emerging public consensus: according to a recent poll, 76 percent of Americans believe that marijuana should be legal for medicinal use, and 58 percent support recreational use of cannabis for adults.
That is why it looks so ridiculous that cannabis stands in one range with heroin. As of today, 25 stated have legalized medical marijuana, four states and Washington D.C. went even further and supported the recreational use of cannabis as well.
Legalization opponents appeal to the fact that there are not enough facts about the medicinal use of marijuana. However, there are plenty of doctors and patients who not only believe in the medical value of cannabis but also see the results of cannabis treatment. Unfortunately, on the scale of the whole medical community, such opinion on the issue is not universal.
We would suppose that we need more studies on the health effects of marijuana, but at the same time, most of the studies are difficult or even impossible to conduct while cannabis is still ranked as a Schedule I drug. And this vicious circle is difficult to break without law changes.
The DEA has to decide whether to remove marijuana from the controlled substances list, to move some of the cannabis compounds to a lower schedule, or to keep the plant as a Schedule I drug. The chances for every decision are pretty much equal; however, if they want to reclassify cannabis, this is the right moment.
It is also possible that the DEA will classify cannabis as a Schedule II drug, where you can find among others cocaine and morphine. This category includes highly addictive drugs that have a certain medical value. It gives more opportunities to use the drug (for instance, a certain form of cocaine is still used as a local anesthetic), but the restrictions are still severe.
It is only the last category of the list, Schedule V, that has the least number of restrictions. This category includes, for instance, cough syrup because of codeine in its composition. However, tobacco and alcohol are not considered as controlled substances by the DEA at all. Despite numerous studies that show that both of them are much more addictive than marijuana, they are more privileged than pot.
The opponents insist that this difference is not a mistake. People are only aware of the short-term effect of marijuana. There is still no evidence to the way cannabis affects human health in a long-term perspective, what changes it may cause in ten or twenty years. We cannot ignore those long-term effects. That is why the issue requires more research.
Even the smallest changes (which are not small after all) can bring some justification. Reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II drug will recognize the medical value of cannabis in an official way.
This decision in its turn may inspire and stimulate other states to legalize medical marijuana or support the recreational marijuana initiative. Additionally, it may give more opportunities for the researchers to conduct studies on marijuana's properties and its effects on the human health.
So far, not so many researchers dare to apply for a study on a substance that is on the Schedule I list. Some researchers even insist that restrictions on marijuana are harder than on other Schedule I drugs.
If the DEA reschedules marijuana to the Schedule III list, where you can find anabolic steroids and Tylenol with codeine, it can stimulate the growth of local cannabis-related businesses, which means more working places and more taxes. Now, businesses dealing with cannabis have lots or restrictions that make their work significantly harder. Among other restrictions, all the businesses who work with the Schedule I and II substances cannot write off such common expenses as advertising, utilities, or even rent.
However, even if the DEA reschedules cannabis to a lower restrictive category, it will not free marijuana-related businesses from certain restrictions. For instance, it can still be difficult to get access to banking services for the businesses.
Real changes will come only if cannabis is descheduled completely, just like tobacco and alcohol. However, it is only when we see the decision the DEA has taken about cannabis that we will be able to talk about the changes that it may cause.