Yesterday three U.S. Senators introduced a bi-partisan bill that would effectively legalize medical marijuana on the federal level and move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. The gravity of this bill cannot be understated, especially when we consider what this means for marijuana research.
In 1970 during the presidency of Richard Nixon, the U.S. adopted a system of classification by which drugs were ranked based on their abuse potential, medical value, and consumer safety. The most dangerous, addictive, and medically useless drugs were placed in Schedule I. As you descend the list to Schedule V, the drugs should theoretically become more benign and medically accepted, and there are fewer obstructions to their research.
But there’s a glaring problem with this picture: what the hell is cannabis still doing in Schedule I? Is it seriously considered a more harmful substance than meth, cocaine, and opiates? How do you justify this classification when legal pharmaceutical painkillers take a life every 19 minutes while cannabis overdoses amount to zero total instances over 5,000 years of documented use? How is it possible to deny its medicinal applications in the face of countless stories and studies demonstrating its medical utility?
And, of course, the ever-so satisfying response from our nation’s leaders:
“We as policy makers cannot ignore the basic scientific fact that marijuana is addictive and marijuana use has harmful consequences… Any discussion on the issue should be guided by science and evidence, not ideology and wishful thinking.”
This response presents an unconquerable paradox, a vicious cycle in which marijuana’s benefits cannot be investigated because of its federal scheduling, and its classification cannot be negotiated due to a lack of scientific evidence supporting its therapeutic value. Government-funded research on cannabis is being conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), who looks at substances through the lens of addiction and harm potential, so you can imagine why we’ve been stuck in the rut of Reefer Madness all these years.
"I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast,” Ronald Reagan once said. This is the same breed of draconian logic that first put marijuana in Schedule I, and if anyone else cares to help burn down this system of misinformation, we’ll be over here writing to our senators:
Dear Senator _______,
I am writing to urge you to support the CARERS Act recently introduced by Senators Gillibrand, Booker, and Paul. Removing cannabis as a Schedule I drug opens the doors for doctors to legally prescribe medical marijuana to those in need of its benefits. It would safeguard the freedom of patients to choose a method of treatment that improves their quality of life and eliminate the fear associated with its criminalization. Federal restrictions on cannabis have obstructed valuable research that would shed light on marijuana’s benefits and risks, knowledge we owe to doctors and patients hoping to make informed medical decisions. It is imperative that we reconcile discrepancies between federal and state marijuana laws, so I ask that you please support the CARERS Act for your constituents, for patients, and for advocates across the nation. Thank you for your time.